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Rheumatology. The word carries an exotic connotation and it is treated that way by the medical community. Unless a student specializes in the field, medical schools spend little time preparing general practitioners in Rheumatology. This results in a serious lack of skilled clinicians.
In Ireland, for example, almost three-quarters of a million people are stricken with arthritis and yet, there exists only one specialist per 400,000 people—well below the World Health Organization’s recommendation of one doctor per 80,000 people. The situation in the rest of the world is not much different.
Arthritis Ireland is taking things into their own hands and making sure that experts get developed in this field by funding three new academic chairs at Irish Universities.
This couldn’t come at a better time. Professor Oliver Fitzgerald, a consultant at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin and Arthritis Ireland’s chairman comments:
“For the first time in my lifetime as a rheumatologist, the ‘c’ word is being talked about—the cure.”
The following facts from the United States’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion underscore the need for a cure; or at least better treatment:
Arthritis is the source of at least 44 million visits to health care providers, 744,000 hospitalizations, and 4 million days of hospital care per year.
Estimated medical care costs for persons with arthritis were $15 billion, and total costs (medical care plus lost productivity) were $65 billion in 1992. This latter amount is equal to 1.1 percent of the gross domestic product.
Nearly 60 percent of persons with arthritis are in the working-aged population and they have a low rate of labor force participation.
Arthritis, like other chronic pain conditions, has an important negative effect on a person’s mental health.
Given current population projections, arthritis will affect over 18 percent of all persons in the United States (nearly 60 million persons) in the year 2020 and will limit the major activities of nearly 4 percent (11.6 million).
One can hope that the rest of the world will take a lead from Arthritis Ireland.