Breaking Down Barriers in Arthritis Care

The Arthritis Foundation is committed to improving equity and access to care for all those with arthritis.

By Marlena Reed | April 18, 2024

Paula was 11 when she first visited a pediatric rheumatologist, after experiencing joint pain and stiffness. The visit was like any other juvenile arthritis patient’s, with one critical difference. Paula’s parents, who immigrated to the U.S., could not communicate with the rheumatologist due to a language barrier, leaving Paula to translate as the doctor shared her juvenile arthritis diagnosis and recommended treatment plan. This process continued throughout Paula’s teen years.

Those communication challenges made a lasting impact on Paula. Now an adult, she volunteers to support other arthritis patients who deal with language barriers and other challenges navigating their health care journey. Paula’s experience is not unusual in the U.S. health care system — where patients can face barriers based on their finances, race or ethnicity, as well as cultural, language and religious differences.

Working with passionate volunteers, community partners and patients, the Arthritis Foundation is dedicated to breaking down barriers to care for underserved populations, which ultimately improve health outcomes. Read on to learn what we are doing.

Rheumatology Workforce Development

The worldwide shortage of rheumatology specialists for the millions of adults and hundreds of thousands of children with arthritis continues to be a challenge. At this article’s writing, seven states have zero pediatric rheumatologists. By 2030, the number of rheumatologists is expected to drop by 25% from 2015 baseline levels while patient demand is projected to exceed the supply of rheumatologists by over 100%. We are working to close the gap by offering clinical rheumatology fellowships, with an emphasis on adding expertise to urban and rural communities with the most severe shortages of rheumatologists. The strategy is working. In 2024, a previous Fellow, Julie Campbell, MD, became the first pediatric rheumatologist in Montana, which also is her home state.

Educational institutions and researchers are developing innovative curriculums and research initiatives to attract and retain qualified medical students and residents from diverse backgrounds to rheumatology. Since 2021, we have awarded more than $1.3 million in grants to rheumatology workforce development curriculums and research programs, several of which also address disparities in patient care.

Community-Based Partnerships

Helping all people with arthritis live their best lives while managing their conditions requires that our resources are available and accessible regardless of an individual’s ethnicity, where they live, or their education and income levels. To better meet the needs of historically underserved people, we rely on community-based partners to reach them and deliver compatible Arthritis Foundation programming to their audiences. This methodology brings resources like Walk With Ease, Connect Groups, patient education webinars, informative podcasts and in-person events to more people while also increasing the impact of our partners. After a successful pilot program in which we served more than 700 people, reached over 30,000 individuals and established best practices, we continue to grow our partnerships in a sustainable, strategic way.

Creating Connections

An analysis of nearly 27,000 patient responses (collected from 2019 to 2022) to an Arthritis Foundation study shows a significant connection between a patient feeling emotionally supported and their arthritis symptoms. Many of our resources bring arthritis patients and caregivers together to provide peer-to-peer support and insights. To help patients address this issue, we offer peer-to-peer virtual support groups to bring together patients and caregivers based on their unique topics of interest, including disease-type, age, military experience and more. In addition to the virtual options, in-person Connect Groups led by volunteers are active in communities across the country.

A facilitator of the Hispanic Connect Group says her goal is simple. “I want participants to know there’s a safe space here,” she says. “A place where they can talk about the good and bad, the small wins and the frustrations they experience.”

One in four adults in the U.S. have at least one form of arthritis, and the disease is the No. 1 cause of disability in the U.S. These statistics and the fact that kids get arthritis, too, create a sense of urgency at the Arthritis Foundation to provide resources and support to patients from all walks of life.  


Stay in the Know. Live in the Yes.

Get involved with the arthritis community. Tell us a little about yourself and, based on your interests, you’ll receive emails packed with the latest information and resources to live your best life and connect with others.