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Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are the leading cause of disability in the United States,1 affecting approximately 43 million persons2 and costing $65 billion in 1992.3 By 2020, these numbers will increase as the population ages.4 This report examines several measures of the impact of arthritis on the U.S. health-care system; the findings indicate that arthritis and other rheumatic conditions have a large impact on hospitalizations, ambulatory-care visits, and home health care, with women accounting for most of this impact and all persons aged <65 years accounting for a substantial portion.
The impact on the health-care system was measured using the most recent data on inpatient care, ambulatory care, and home health care. The 1997 National Hospital Discharge Survey was used to measure the number of discharges (by first-listed discharge diagnosis), days of care, and average length of stay at short-stay, nonfederal hospitals. The 1997 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the 1997 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were used to measure the number and percentage (recorded by principal diagnosis and setting) of ambulatory-care visits. The 1996 National Home and Hospice Care Survey was used to measure the number and percentage (recorded by first diagnosis at admission) of home health-care discharges and the average length of service. Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions (e.g., lupus, bursitis, and fibromyalgia) were defined using the National Arthritis Data Workgroup definition.4* When appropriate, data were examined by age group (<15, 15-44, 45-64, and ≥65 years) and sex. Data were analyzed using SUDAAN,5 and the results were weighted to account for the complex sample design.
Persons with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions accounted for 2.4% (approximately 744,000) of all hospital discharges and 2.4% (approximately 4 million) of days of care in 1997, with an average length of stay similar to that for all conditions (approximately 5 days). Of these discharges, women accounted for 60.7% and persons aged less than 65 years for 44.2%. Persons with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions accounted for 4.6% (approximately 44 million) of all ambulatory-care visits, including 38.9 million visits to physicians' offices, 2.9 million visits to outpatient departments, and 2.2 million visits to emergency departments. Of these visits, women accounted for 63% and persons aged <65 years accounted for 68%. Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions accounted for 4.8% (approximately 372,000) of all discharges from home health care, with an average length of service of 88.7 days. Most (60%) home health-care discharges were attributable to osteoarthritis. Of these discharges, women accounted for approximately 70% and persons aged <65 years for approximately 26%.
Div of Health Care Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics; Health Care and Aging Studies Br, Div of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.
The findings in this report indicate that arthritis and other rheumatic conditions cause large numbers of persons to receive care in hospital, ambulatory, and home health settings. Women and all persons aged less than 65 years accounted for much of this impact. The impact of arthritis has been underrecognized, and key interventions that reduce arthritis pain and health-care costs have been underused.6 Primary (e.g., weight control and injury prevention), secondary (e.g., early diagnosis and appropriate management), and tertiary (e.g., self-management and rehabilitation services) prevention measures can help reduce this impact.7
These findings are subject to at least one limitation. These data sources do not measure health care in other settings important to persons with arthritis, such as rehabilitation services, chiropractors' offices, physical and occupational therapy services, and mental health services.
Recognition of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions as a large public health problem is increasing; the problem has been addressed in the National Arthritis Action Plan: A Public Health Strategy7 and the first-ever draft objectives for arthritis in the national health objectives for 2010.8 Future research will expand analyses of health-care system data to explore arthritis trends, the interaction of arthritis and other chronic conditions, and other settings of care. In 1999, CDC is initiating funding to increase public health activities targeting arthritis prevention at the national and state levels. State-level arthritis programs should consider collaboration with components of the health-care system because of the large impact of arthritis.
Impact of Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Conditions on the Health-Care System—United States, 1997. JAMA. 1999;281(23):2177-2178. doi:10.1001/jama.281.23.2177