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Arthritis in Canada – Key Messages

Message #1:

Arthritis in Canada is the first report to paint a comprehensive picture of arthritis in Canada. The Report is a joint effort of a number of groups involved in arthritis care, including Health Canada, the Arthritis Community Research & Evaluation Unit (ACREU), The Arthritis Society, and the Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN). Prior to the development of this report, arthritis surveillance activities had been minimal.

Discussion Points:

  • Arthritis in Canada is the first national report to include data from population health surveys, provincial physician billing and drug databases, hospital admissions and day surgery procedures, as well as mortality data.
  • In addition to national and provincial ministries of health, more than 25 other parties were involved in the development and review of Arthritis in Canada, including hospital and university researchers, clinicians and consumers.

Message #2:

Arthritis is a leading cause of pain, physical disability and healthcare utilization in Canada.

Discussion Points:

  • Approximately one in six Canadian adults aged 15 years and over reported having arthritis as a long-term health condition.i Within a decade, one million more Canadians are expected to have arthritis or related conditions.
  • Arthritis not only affects elderly people: three in five Canadians with arthritis are younger than 65.ii
  • There are almost as many of people with arthritis in Canada as in the population of British Columbia. There are more people with arthritis in Canada in the pre-retirement years than in the combined population of the four Maritime Provinces.
  • At $16.4 billion, musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, are the second most costly category of diseases in Canada annually.iii A conservative estimate for the economic costs of arthritis alone is $4.4 billion. Long-term disability accounts for almost 80% of arthritis related costs, with 70% of these costs incurred by individuals aged 35 to 64.iv
    Note: The most costly group of diseases is cardiovascular.

Message #3:

This report is a critical first step in understanding how to improve the quality of life for people living with arthritis and to make the most of valuable health care resources. It provides important insights for planning arthritis care and treatment.

Discussion Points:

  • Arthritis is one of the leading reasons for physician visits (after allergy and back pain/injury). Canadians make almost 9 million visits per year to doctors for arthritis, mainly to primary care physicians. Only 18 per cent see a medical specialist.v
  • Primary care physicians play a central role in the management of arthritis, yet gaps in musculoskeletal education have been documented in undergraduate medical education and postgraduate training.
  • Prescribing patterns of arthritis-related drugs varied among the provinces, likely related in part to the availability of drugs on provincial formularies.
  • Although the percentage of people with prescriptions for disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which are effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, has increased steadily over time, the provision of these drugs falls short of the estimated prevalence of this
  • Considerable provincial variation in both orthopaedic procedures and medical admissions for arthritis and related conditions was apparent.vii
  • The decline in rates of surgery as age increases and the lower rates in women for all but joint replacements raise issues of inequities in access to care that need to be investigated.
  • Although the prevalence of arthritis is increasing, the static trend in rates of orthopaedic procedures suggests that the system’s ability to meet future needs should be examined.
  • To date, the focus of research in the area of arthritis has been on prevention and control through treatment and medication. More research could be undertaken, particularly in the area of primary prevention and patient education, as well as into identifying the cause(s) of arthritis.
  1. Arthritis in Canada. September 2003. Chapter 2, p. 2: figure 2.1
  2. Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 3: 2.3
  3. Ibid., Chapter 3, pp. 9-10: 3.5
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 18: 2.4
  6. Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 87: 5.6
  7. Ibid., Chapter 6, p. 10: 6.1, p.18: 6.2