BMJ Open 3:e002468 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002468
  • Rheumatology
    • Research

A retrospective cohort study: 10-year trend of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biological agents use in patients with rheumatoid arthritis at Veteran Affairs Medical Centers

  1. Myrna M Khan1,2
  1. 1Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence, Houston, Texas, USA
  2. 2Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA
  3. 3School of Nursing, University of Houston-Victoria, Katy, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Bernard Ng; bernardng1{at}
  • Received 7 December 2012
  • Revised 11 March 2013
  • Accepted 12 March 2013
  • Published 5 April 2013


Objectives To evaluate the trends in patterns of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological agents use from 1999 to 2009 and to identify patient characteristics associated with different patterns of their use in a national sample of Veterans with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Design A retrospective cohort study.

Settings Administrative databases of the USA Department of Veterans Affairs.

Participants An incident cohort of 13 254 patients with newly diagnosed RA was identified.

Primary outcome measures Trends and choice of DMARDs and biological agents’ usage, and time intervals between RA diagnosis and treatment

Results Methotrexate use as first-line agent increased from 39.9% to 57.2% over the study period (p<0.001). Although biological dispensations increased over other DMARDs and biological agents, from 3.4% to 25% from 1999 to 2009, the percentage of RA patients diagnosed between 1999 and 2007 who had biologics dispensations remained steady at 23.3–26.7%. Compared with Caucasian, African Americans were less likely to receive biologics (HR 0.71, 95% CI 0.63 to 0.81). Patients aged 75 and older were less likely to receive biologics than those younger than 45 (HR 0.29, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.36). The time interval between RA diagnosis and treatment with DMARDs and biological agents decreased significantly over time (median: 51 days in 1999–2001 to 28 days in 2006–2007).

Conclusions Methotrexate use increased as it became the preferred first-line agent, while other traditional agents declined. Dispensation of biologics increased significantly, but the proportion of RA patients eventually given biologics stabilised below 30%. A significant shorter time between RA diagnosis and DMARD or biological agent initiation in recent years suggests improvements in quality of care. There were disproportionately lower use of biologics in certain age and ethnic groups, and further studies will be needed to elucidate these observations.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: and

blog comments powered by Disqus