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2022 May 02

Clin Rheumatol

Challenges of caring for homeless patients with inflammatory arthritis: 12-month follow-up observations and identification of certain barriers to care.


Rai B, Kobashigawa L, Amarnani A, Ward N ZK, Feldman C, Feldman B, Panush RS
Clin Rheumatol. 2022 May 02.
PMID: 35499771.


Homelessness is a public health crisis and there is a paucity of information about patients with rheumatic disease experiencing homelessness. We sought to develop approaches to improve care for this unique patient population. We previously reported observations on 17 homeless patients with inflammatory arthritis (15 rheumatoid arthritis (RA), 2 psoriatic arthritis (PsA)). We obtained follow-up information from our original 17 patients and compared this to data summarized and published about them from 12 months previously. We also created and administered a 100-question needs assessment survey. Follow-up 12-month clinical information was available from 13/17 homeless and 13/17 non-homeless controls. Homeless patients remained less well with more disease than non-homeless patients-poorer access to clinic appointments (80% vs 91%, p < 0.05), more emergency services use (20 vs 5 ED visits), less DMARDs use (43% vs 100%, p < 0.01), and more steroid use (29% vs 0%, p < 0.01). Homeless patients also had higher inflammatory markers than non-homeless patients (ESR 32 vs 26 mm/h and CRP 17 vs 5 mg/L), although these findings were not statistically significantly different. Seventy-eight percent of homeless patients were stable, 14% improved, and 7% worse; 21% had stable controlled and 57% stable active disease vs 62% and 0% of non-homeless (p < 0.01). Among the homeless, 6 (4 RA, 2 PsA) completed the survey, 2 declined, and 9 could not be reached. All 6 had found housing although all still had housing insecurity; 4 (67%) were homeless in the past. Three out of six (50%) obtained housing from social assistance during hospitalization following disease exacerbation while homeless. The average monthly income was $873. 5/6 (83.3%), were unable to work due to health, and were in considerable pain that adversely impacted their physical and mental health and ability to perform ADLs. Their perceived "greatest need" included dental care, physical therapy, knee surgery, employment, socialization secondary to isolation, and stable housing. Our understanding of the unique challenges of patients with rheumatic disease experiencing homelessness is improved, but not complete. Strengthened collaboration between street medicine providers and rheumatologists is necessary to improve care for homeless patients, especially given poorer outcomes compared with non-homeless counterparts. Key Points • We report 12-month follow-up information from our original 17 homeless patients with inflammatory arthritis (related in this journal in 2021) and their responses to an extensive needs assessment survey designed to identify barriers to care. • Homeless patients with inflammatory arthritis continued to have worse disease outcomes, use more corticosteroids and less DMARDs, and be seen less often in rheumatology clinics and more frequently in emergency departments than their non-homeless counterparts. • Survey data indicated that social assistance during hospitalization was a key area where healthcare providers could intervene to provide housing security for homeless patients and improve outcomes. Patients perceived "greatest needs" went beyond housing and rheumatological care and critically included access to social/specialty services. • Street medicine is the direct delivery of healthcare to people experiencing homelessness wherever they reside. Our observations, obtained in collaboration with street medicine colleagues, suggest important and salutary opportunities for this partnership to improve care for these particular patients.