Orientation Feedback for Rheumatoid Arthritis
In evaluating case performance, the domains of diagnosis (including physical examination and appropriate diagnostic tests), therapy, monitoring, timing, sequencing, and location are considered.
In this case, a 32-year-old woman comes to the office because of knee pain and swelling. From the chief complaint, the differential diagnosis is broad. It includes osteoarthritis, infectious arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), gout, and psoriatic arthritis. The comprehensive history, however, narrows the differential. The patient has experienced increasing fatigue and generalized weakness during the past 4 months. She developed generalized aches and morning joint stiffness during the past 8 weeks and, more recently, pain and intermittent swelling of both wrists, and of the proximal metacarpophalangeal joints, as well as bilateral knee swelling. These signs and symptoms are highly suggestive of a chronic systemic inflammatory process.
Physical examination shows bilateral swollen, warm, and tender wrist, proximal metacarpophalangeal, and knee joints, and bilateral knee effusions. Other physical findings are unremarkable. In the absence of other findings, the patient’s illness, at this point, seems most consistent with rheumatoid arthritis. While the presence of certain clinical features is helpful in excluding other connective tissue diseases and osteoarthritis, further diagnostic evaluation is appropriate to confirm the presumptive diagnosis and establish the severity of the disease.
The computer-based case simulation database contains thousands of possible tests and treatments. Therefore, it is not feasible to list every action that might affect an examinee's score. The following descriptions are meant to serve as examples of actions that would add to, subtract from, or have no effect on an examinee's score for this case.
An optimal, efficient approach to diagnosis would include performing an appropriate physical examination (including extremities/spine, chest/lung, cardiovascular, abdominal, skin, HEENT/neck, and lymph node examinations). A rheumatoid factor test or a cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody (Anti-CCP) test would support the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. The diagnostic workup would also include a complete blood count, arthrocentesis with relevant synovial fluid studies (cell count, crystals, and bacterial culture), an antinuclear antibody assay, and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate or C-reactive protein test. These tests serve to assess the severity of the disease and consider the likelihood of SLE, gout, an infectious process, or reactive arthritis. In addition, joint x-rays would provide a baseline assessment.
In adult patients, an optimal approach to treatment would focus on relieving pain, decreasing inflammation, preventing or slowing joint damage, and improving function. It is important to manage the acute phase of the disease and to address the long-term care of the patient in this case. Optimal treatment would include a combination of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) or corticosteroid with a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) for comprehensive therapeutic treatment. Administration of a DMARD, eg, methotrexate or etanercept, prevents or slows joint damage, and improves joint function. An NSAID or corticosteroid relieves pain and decreases inflammation essential to provide interim symptom relief while the selected DMARD takes effect. To prevent deformity and loss of joint function, the patient would be advised to exercise appropriately. Or, a referral would be made for physical or occupational therapy.
In this case simulation, when NSAID or corticosteroid treatment is initiated, the patient regularly reports both joint and systemic improvements. Therefore, ordering a rheumatology consult or additional monitoring is appropriate but optional during the time frame of this simulation.
Examples of additional tests and treatments that could be ordered but would be neither useful nor harmful to the patient include:
- Chlamydia trachomatis tests
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae tests
- Antibody, anti-single-stranded DNA
- Thyroid studies
- Uric acid, serum
Examples of suboptimal management of this case would include delay in diagnosis or treatment, or treatment with NSAIDS or corticosteroids alone. Treatment with salicylates would also be considered suboptimal management in this case. Although they would temporarily relieve pain when administered in high doses, there are other agents with fewer adverse effects that would be better treatment options. Examples of poor management would include failure to order any physical examination or failure to treat rheumatoid arthritis. With the availability of effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and concerns about opioid addiction, narcotic analgesics should have a limited role in treatment.
Examples of invasive tests that would subject the patient to unnecessary discomfort or risk and add no useful information include:
- Synovial biopsy
While many case scenarios run for a relatively short period of simulated time, a matter of hours or days, this scenario runs for a longer period of time, weeks. This illustrates the importance of allowing sufficient time for the patient to respond to treatment and emphasizes monitoring and long-term management.