More rheumatologists are embracing musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSUS) to diagnose and manage rheumatic diseases. In response, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) assembled a task force to investigate and determine best practices for use of MSUS in rheumatology practice. The resulting scenario-based recommendations, which aim to help clinicians understand when it is reasonable to integrate MSUS into their rheumatology practices, now appear online in Arthritis Care & Research.
In Europe, more than 100 million individuals are affected by rheumatic diseases, according to the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR). The ACR estimates that nearly 50 million Americans are burdened by arthritis and more than 7 million individuals suffer from inflammatory rheumatic diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
"With so many people affected by rheumatic diseases, including arthritis, a diagnostic tool such as MSUS that is minimally invasive and with little risk to patients is an important tool for rheumatologists," explains lead researcher Dr. Tim McAlindon from Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Mass. "Our task force goal was to establish when use of MSUS was 'reasonable' in a number of medical situations."
The task force reviewed medical literature to come up with scenario-based recommendations for how MSUS could be used in rheumatology practice. These recommendations include a rating by type of evidence, with Level A supported by at least two randomized clinical trials or one or more meta-analyses of randomized trials; Level B backed by one randomized trial, non-randomized studies or meta-analyses of non-randomized studies; and Level C confirmed by consensus expert opinion, case studies, or standard clinical care.
The complete list of 14 recommendations of the reasonable use of MSUS in rheumatology, along with level of evidence, is published in the article. Partial list of recommendations includes:
The benefits of MSUS use include a faster, more accurate diagnosis, better measurement of treatment success, reduced procedural pain, and improved patient satisfaction. However, the authors highlight that economic impact was not part of this study. Dr. McAlindon concludes, "Further study of the cost-effectiveness and long-term outcomes of MSUS is necessary to determine its value compared to other interventions."