A blood test, known as Rheumatoid Factor, is often ordered when you consult with a rheumatologist for the first time. Primary doctors sometimes order the test as well, but according to an oral abstract presented at the British Society for Rheumatology's annual conference, Rheumatology 2014, that can be a problem in some cases. Some primary doctors are misled by false negative results and delay the referral of a patient to a rheumatologist.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and the University of Bath analyzed a primary care database of 64,000 patients who were tested for rheumatoid factor between 2000-2008. There were 1,800 people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis within 2 years. Of those, 1,000 were positive for rheumatoid factor and 800 were negative for rheumatoid factor. Patients who had a negative result were not referred as quickly to a rheumatologist. The referral took about 67 days, which was 45 days longer than for rheumatoid factor positive patients.
Researchers concluded that the delay is significant because early diagnosis and treatment are essential for rheumatoid arthritis. Patients should be referred on the basis of symptoms and the rheumatoid factor test should not be used in primary care settings to rule out rheumatoid arthritis.
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