Rural and remote patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at risk for inequities in health outcomes based on differences in physical environments and healthcare access potential compared to urban populations. This systematic review aimed to synthesize epidemiology, clinical outcomes, and health service use reported for global populations with RA residing in rural/remote locations.
Fifty‐four articles were included for data synthesis, representing studies from all continents. In 11 studies where an appropriate urban population comparator, rural/remote populations were not at increased risk for RA, 1 study reported increased, and five studies reported decreased prevalence in rural/remote populations. Clinical characteristics of rural/remote populations in studies with an appropriate urban comparator showed no significant differences in disease activity measures or disability, but 1 study reported worse physical function and health‐related quality of life in rural/remote populations. Studies reporting on health service use provided evidence that rural/remote residence adversely impacts diagnostic time, ongoing follow‐up, access to RA‐care related practitioners and services, and variation in medication access and use, with prominent heterogeneity noted between countries.
In conclusion, RA epidemiology and clinical outcomes are not necessarily different between rural/remote and urban populations within countries. Rural/remote patients face more significant barriers to care, which increases the risk of inequities in outcomes.