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New ACR White Paper Highlights Health Care Challenges Affecting the Rheumatic Disease Community

May 11, 2021 | ACR News


WASHINGTON, DC ­– The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) today announced the launch of a new white paper, “Rheumatic Diseases in America: Confronting the Challenge,” which provides an overview of the current health care challenges facing the rheumatic disease community and highlights the importance of receiving timely and appropriate treatment from a rheumatology health professional.

Released during Arthritis Awareness Month, the white paper aims to educate policymakers, health care professionals, members of the media and the general public about rheumatic diseases, which affect approximately 54 million adults and at least 300,000 children in the United States alone.

“Rheumatology is a broad discipline that covers a wide variety of diseases that affect a person’s joints, musculoskeletal systems, immune system and many other organs,” said Dr. Suleman Bhana, Chair of the ACR’s Communications and Marketing Committee. “With this white paper, we aim to create an accessible, introductory resource for those interested in learning more about rheumatic disease, current treatment options, and the health care and lifestyle challenges patients with rheumatic disease face.”

The white paper is written and designed to appeal to multiple audiences and consists of four key sections:

I. Rheumatology 101

This section provides an introduction to what a rheumatic disease is, describes the role of a rheumatologist, and discusses the importance of early and appropriate treatment. Patients and their family members – particularly those who may have been recently diagnosed with a rheumatic disease – may find this section helpful in understanding what to expect after a diagnosis. Health care professionals may also find this section to be an important resource for conversations with patients to reinforce the importance of timely and accurate diagnosis, and why coordinating care between specialists is so important.

There are over 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions, some of the most common include: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout, scleroderma, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and Sjögren’s syndrome. This white paper discusses what some of these diseases are and how they affect different parts of the body.

II. Rheumatic Diseases: Prevalence & Impact

Rheumatic diseases in America are extremely common. According to the CDC, an estimated 54 million Americans – 1 in 4 – have a doctor-diagnosed rheumatic disease and some studies have suggested that the actual number of Americans living with these diseases is even higher when accounting for symptoms reported by undiagnosed individuals. The economic toll of rheumatic diseases is also significant. The total cost of rheumatic diseases was recently estimated to be as high as $304 billion annually – greater than the total cost of cancer care in the United States.

For policymakers, the media and the general public, this white paper provides useful statistics that call attention to rheumatic diseases as a public health issue, why solutions are urgently needed to improve patients’ quality of life, and why rheumatology health care professionals are uniquely equipped to help patients manage these diseases. 

II. Emerging Trends in Rheumatology

Providers may find the white paper’s discussion of emerging trends in rheumatology – including biosimilars and telehealth – to be helpful in their practice. Rheumatology is a constantly changing field of medicine and these issues will become increasingly important for patients, providers, and the public to understand. 

Biosimilars (copies of biologic drugs that are intended to work in the same way as their reference products) represent a new and promising area of rheumatic disease treatment. However, educating patients and providers about their use will continue to be crucial to ensuring their uptake. While recent research has shown that rheumatologists generally have a good understanding and acceptance of biosimilar products, a recent survey found that 29 percent of rheumatic disease patients were unsure whether they had been prescribed a biosimilar drug.

Telehealth, the adoption of which has been catalyzed by the COVID-19 pandemic, represents another important emerging trend in the practice of rheumatology. As many as 66 percent of rheumatic disease patients had an appointment via telehealth in 2020 and these services have been shown to especially benefit individuals with disabilities, those who are in a nursing home, and those living in an area where they would have to travel long distances for treatment.

IV. Access, Affordability & Lifestyle Challenges for People Living with Rheumatic Disease

People living with rheumatic diseases face a variety of access, affordability, and lifestyle challenges associated with their disease. This white paper provides an overview to the public policy issues related to these challenges such as a growing rheumatology workforce shortage, insurer practices that restrict access to care, and rising drug prices that threaten to make treatment unaffordable for many who rely on specialty medications to manage their symptoms.

Solutions are needed to address these issues – and others – that affect the rheumatic disease community. This white paper presents readers with the latest opportunities to get involved with the ACR and Simple Tasks to advocate for better public policy.

Download the white paper


Media Contact
Kyna Willis


About the American College of Rheumatology
Founded in 1934, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is a not-for-profit, professional association committed to advancing the specialty of rheumatology that serves nearly 8,500 physicians, health professionals, and scientists worldwide. In doing so, the ACR offers education, research, advocacy and practice management support to help its members continue their innovative work and provide quality patient care. Rheumatology professionals are experts in the diagnosis, management and treatment of more than 100 different types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases.

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