Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia syndrome (FM) are common diagnoses encountered in rheumatology practice, but do not enjoy the same status. We aimed to examine physician’s illness perceptions regarding these two rheumatologic disorders and to evaluate how they correlate with their relationship with these patients.
Forty-five rheumatologists were enrolled in the study. Demographic data were registered. Measures collected included the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire (BIPQ) and the Difficult Doctor- Patient Relation Questionnaire (DDPRQ-10). Both were recorded twice, related to FM and RA. Empathy and burnout were also assessed.
Of 45 physicians included in the study, only 53% were willing to accept FM patients. FM was considered a more severe disease than RA (FM-BIPQ mean score 54, SD 5.5 versus RA-BIPQ mean 45.6 SD 6.5, p<0.00) in terms of treatment control, understanding and emotional response generated by the disease. Doctor-patient relationship was perceived more difficult with FM patients compared to RA patients (FM-DDPRQ mean score 35.1, SD 9.2 versus RA-DDPRQ mean 19.6, SD 7.1, p<0.00), and was significantly correlated to the patient's concern about the illness (p<0.034) and patient's emotional response (p<0.036). Resistance to accept FM patients was largely influenced by difficult doctor-patient relationship. Higher levels of empathy were found in physicians experiencing less difficulty with FM patients.
FM patients were perceived as more difficult than RA patients, with a high level of concern and emotional response. A high proportion of physicians were reluctant to accept them because they feel emotional/psychological difficulties meeting and coping with these patients.