As president of the Georgia Society of Rheumatology (GSR), Wambui Machua, MD, a rheumatologist with Piedmont Physicians Rheumatology, Atlanta, oversees a membership of 90 rheumatologists, six orthopedists, two nurses, 85 physician assistants and 27 fellows and residents.
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Explore This IssueJune 2020
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According to Dr. Machua, the GSR, founded in 1967, continues to pursue its original mission of providing educational and advocacy opportunities, as well as keeping members connected.
“We’re a very tight-knit group, and we believe in supporting each other,” Dr. Machua says. “If a member has a challenging patient scenario or health policy concern, they know they can receive guidance and input from their GSR colleagues.”
Recently, the GSR has been involved in a number of legislative efforts, including support for House Bill 63, introduced in 2019 by Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta). The bill, signed into law in April 2019, reforms the insurance practice known as step therapy or fail first. Step therapy forces patients to try therapies preferred by the insurance company before the therapy their doctor prescribed will be approved—even when doctors are certain the initial therapies won’t be effective. The practice puts the financial benefit of insurers and pharmacy benefit managers above the judgment of healthcare providers, and poses unnecessary risk to patients’ health by delaying effective treatment.
“This bill, at the state level, gives patients faster access to effective treatments prescribed by their rheumatologist rather than [delaying] appropriate therapy,” Dr. Machua says.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s most recent Arthritis Burden Report, arthritis is a major public health problem in the state. Roughly one in four adult Georgians (1.7 million people) has doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and nearly half of those are disabled.1
Increasing Patient Access
As in other states with a mix of urban and rural areas, access to rheumatologists is also an issue in Georgia, a state of 10.52 million people, says Dr. Machua. The ACR noted last year that Georgia averages 74,713 people per rheumatologist.2
“Most of our rheumatologists are concentrated in urban areas, such as metropolitan Atlanta,” Dr. Machua says. “This results in many rural patients having to travel long distances or waiting for several months to secure a rheumatology appointment.”
Telemedicine is one option being explored as a way to provide rheumatology care to patients in rural areas. Dr. Machua cites a recent lupus telemedicine pilot launched by the Georgia Council on Lupus Education and Awareness, which looked at ways to improve access and outcomes for lupus patients who live in rural Georgia.