Canadians with Arthritis Hit by Shortage of Medical Specialists



    Arthritis Awareness Month Highlights Need for More Rheumatologists

    TORONTO, Sept. 2 /CNW/ - The number of Canadians diagnosed with arthritis
is rising dramatically. At the same time, the country faces a shortage of
arthritis medical specialists.
    According to The Arthritis Society, there is a pressing need to increase
the number of rheumatologists (doctors who are trained as experts in
arthritis) to address this demand. There are only about 350 rheumatologists in
Canada - that's half the number needed to provide sufficient medical care(i).
As well, almost one-third of the country's rheumatologists are expected to
retire over the next decade(ii).
    These alarming statistics coincide with Arthritis Awareness Month in
September, when The Arthritis Society heightens awareness of the disease and
raises much-needed funds for arthritis research and programs. While The
Arthritis Society is supporting many initiatives to ensure the availability of
quality arthritis care, the shortage of trained rheumatologists means that
many people who have arthritis won't see a specialist in time to avoid
permanent damage to their joints.
    "The longer it takes for someone with arthritis to be evaluated by an
expert, the higher the risk of irreversible joint damage," explains Steven
McNair, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. "This can have a
devastating impact on a person's quality of life and future well-being.
Without enough trained rheumatologists, the demand for care can't be met."
    The situation is particularly serious for the more than one million
Canadians with inflammatory types of arthritis, of which the most common is
rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammatory arthritis attacks the lining of the joints,
causing painful inflammation and stiffness, and sometimes attacking other
organs of the body. The condition can result in destruction of cartilage,
bone, tendons and ligaments. Research has proven that early diagnosis and
aggressive treatment can save many people from a life of disability.
    "With so many rheumatologists retiring in the coming years and a steadily
expanding population of arthritis patients that will need this kind of
expertise, we have an urgent situation on our hands," says Ottawa
Rheumatologist, Dr. John Thomson, President of the Canadian Rheumatology
Association (CRA). "As the community of arthritis specialists in the country
declines, those remaining rheumatologists will have even more difficulty
accommodating new patients."
    The Arthritis Society is supporting many initiatives across Canada to
counter the shortage of rheumatologists. "As troubling as these numbers are,
there have been some wonderful success stories," adds Mr. McNair. "With the
support of our donors, The Arthritis Society is funding programs that enable
medical students to pursue rheumatology as a career. We pay for specialized
training of students each year, resulting in more practicing rheumatologists
in Canada. In addition, The Arthritis Society helps finance Arthritis Centres
at 16 of Canada's medical schools. So much more still needs to be done,
though, to fill the gap."
    To build on financial support for rheumatology training, The Arthritis
Society works closely with the corporate community. An example is the recent
partnership with UCB Pharma Canada Inc. and the CRA to introduce the
Postgraduate Rheumatology Fellowship Award. This Award provides funding over
two years to clinical or clinical research trainees who are completing
training in rheumatology. "This is an exciting initiative and it underscores
the critical role that our corporate partners can play in our fight against
this disease," Mr. McNair says. "By funding the advanced training of
rheumatology graduates, this Fellowship Program has the potential to increase
the number of practicing rheumatologists in Canada."
    The shortage of family doctors is also contributing to the arthritis
crisis. Statistics Canada reports that four million Canadians did not have a
regular physician in 2007. These family doctors represent the frontline in
arthritis diagnosis and treatment, as they are responsible for referring
patients to rheumatologists and seeing people with osteoarthritis (OA). Lack
of regular access to a family doctor poses the risk of delayed referrals to a
specialist and the provision of timely, effective care. To make matters worse,
it's projected that more than 20 per cent of Canadian adults will have
arthritis within 20 years(iii), far outpacing the number of doctors needed to
handle the increased caseload.
    With nearly 4.5 million Canadians with arthritis - a staggering number -
and an estimated increase to 6 million in the next two decades, the impact of
arthritis on our community cannot be underestimated, making Arthritis
Awareness Month a critical time to raise awareness about this disease and the
importance of access to medical care.

    About The Arthritis Society

    The Arthritis Society is Canada's principal arthritis health charity,
which empowers the nearly 4.5 million Canadians with arthritis to live their
lives to the fullest by combating the daily limitations of arthritis. In the
last 60 years, The Society has invested more than $165 million towards
arthritis research to develop better treatments and, ultimately, find a cure.

    
    Sources:
    (i)   Canadian Council of Academic Rheumatologists, CCAR Manpower Survey,
          2007
    (ii)  Arthritis Community Research & Evaluation Unit (ACREU), 2007 Survey
          of Rheumatologists in Ontario, July 2008.
    (iii) Health Canada, Arthritis in Canada: An Ongoing Challenge, 2003.
    




For further information:

For further information: or to schedule an interview with a local
Arthritis Society spokesperson or local rheumatologist, please contact: Chrome
Communications, (905) 567-1406; Alon Barmapov, ext. 223, (647) 405-1352,
alon@chromecommunications.ca; Sandeep Punia, ext. 222, (647) 244-8290,
sandeep@chromecommunications.ca

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