BACKGROUND: Because of the unpredictability people with arthritis face on a daily basis, patient education programmes have become an effective complement to traditional medical treatment giving people with arthritis the strategies and the tools necessary to make daily decisions to cope with the disease. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness of patient education interventions on health status in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE and PsycINFO and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register. A selection of review articles (see references) were examined to identify further relevant publications. There was no language restriction. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCT's) evaluating patient education interventions that included an instructional component and a non-intervention control group; pre- and post-test results available separately for RA, either in the publication or from the studies' authors; and study results presented in full, end-of-study report. MAIN RESULTS: Twenty-four studies with relevant data were included. We found significant effects of patient education at first follow-up for scores on disability, joint counts, patient global assessment and psychological status. Physician global assessment was not assessed in any of the included studies. The two separate dimensions of psychological status: anxiety and depression showed no significant effects, nor did the dimensions of pain and disease activity. At final follow up no significant effects of patient education were found. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: Patient education as provided in the studies reviewed here had moderate short-term effects on patient global assessment, and small short-term effects on disability, joint counts and psychological status. There were no long-term benefits.