The pathway to consultation for rheumatoid arthritis: exploring anticipated actions between the onset of symptoms and face-to-face encounter with a healthcare professional

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


When people first experience symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) they often delay seeking medical attention resulting in delayed diagnosis and treatment. This research assesses behaviours people might engage in prior to, or instead of, seeking medical attention and compares these with behaviours related to illnesses which are better publicised.

Thirty-one qualitative interviews with members of the general public explored intended actions in relation to two hypothetical RA vignettes (with and without joint swelling) and two non-RA vignettes (bowel cancer and angina). The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Analysis focused on intended information gathering and other self-management behaviours in the interval between symptom onset and help-seeking.

Participants were more likely to envision self-managing symptoms when confronted with the symptoms of RA compared to the other vignettes. Participants would look for information to share responsibility for decision making and get advice and reassurance. Others saw no need for information seeking, perceived the information available as untrustworthy or, particularly in the case of bowel cancer and angina, would not want to delay seeking medical attention. Participants further anticipated choosing not to self-manage the symptoms; actively monitoring the symptoms (angina/ bowel cancer) or engaging in self-treatment of symptom(s).

These results help define targets for interventions to increase appropriate help-seeking behaviour for people experiencing the initial symptoms of RA, such as educational interventions directed at allied healthcare professionals from whom new patients may seek information on self-management techniques, or the development of authoritative and accessible informational resources for the general public.


Original languageEnglish
Article number258
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Early online date14 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jun 2017


  • Information seeking behaviour, Arthritis, rheumatoid, Help-seeking behaviour, Delayed diagnosis, Self-management of symptoms