Identifying barriers to the care of the rheumatoid hand in China: comparing attitudes of rheumatologists and hand surgeons

Aim In China, hand surgeons treat fewer rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients compared to other countries. We investigated whether physician and surgeon knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding RA hand deformities reflect current evidence and may contribute to the low utilization of surgery. Method We surveyed hand surgeons and rheumatologists at three tertiary hospitals in Beijing, China. Questionnaires were developed from literature and expert review to assess their knowledge, attitudes and practice patterns related to rheumatoid hand surgery. Results Thirty-five hand surgeons and 59 rheumatologists completed the survey. Roughly one-third felt that the rheumatologists and hand surgeons agree on how to manage RA hand deformities. One-fifth of rheumatologists and 29% of hand surgeons believed that drug therapy can correct hand deformities, which contradicts current evidence. Likewise, 30% and 14%, respectively, recommended surgery for early-stage hand sequelae that do not meet current indications for surgery. Over 80% of surgeons and rheumatologists had no exposure to the other specialty during training and felt their training on the treatment of rheumatoid hand deformities was inadequate. Conclusion Although we found similar interspeciality disagreement in China as is seen in the United States, there appears to be less interaction through training and consultations. Our results also indicate potential deficits in training and unawareness of evidence and indications for rheumatoid hand surgery. These findings help to explain why surgery for rheumatoid hand deformities is rare in China; doctors have fewer opportunities to collaborate across specialties and may not be able to select appropriate candidates for surgery.