1OPEN Health, London, UK.
2Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States.
3University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org.
4Department of Neurology Institution, University of Louisville, 220 Abraham Flexner Way, Suite 606, Louisville, KY, 40202, USA. email@example.com.
Background: Wilson disease (WD) is a genetic disorder of copper metabolism that leads to copper accumulation in various organs, primarily the liver and brain, resulting in heterogenous hepatic, neurologic, and psychiatric symptoms. Diagnosis can occur at any age, requiring lifelong treatment, which can involve liver transplantation. This qualitative study aims to understand the wider patient and physician experience of the diagnosis and management of WD in the US.
Methods: Primary data were collected from 1:1 semi structured interviews with US-based patients and physicians and thematically analyzed with NVivo.
Results: Twelve WD patients and 7 specialist WD physicians (hepatologists and neurologists) were interviewed. Analysis of the interviews revealed 18 themes, which were organized into 5 overarching categories: (1) Diagnosis journey, (2) Multidisciplinary approach, (3) Medication, (4) The role of insurance, and (5) Education, awareness, and support. Patients who presented with psychiatric or neurological symptoms reported longer diagnostic journeys (range 1 to 16 years) than those presenting with hepatic symptoms or through genetic screening (range 2 weeks to 3 years). All were also affected by geographical proximity to WD specialists and access to comprehensive insurance. Exploratory testing was often burdensome for patients, but receipt of a definitive diagnosis led to relief for some. Physicians emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary teams beyond hepatology, neurology, and psychiatry and recommended a combination of chelation, zinc, and a low-copper diet; however, only half the patients in this sample were on a chelator, and some struggled to access prescription zinc due to insurance issues. Caregivers often advocated for and supported adolescents with their medication and dietary regimen. Patients and physicians recommended more education and awareness for the healthcare community.
Conclusions: WD requires the coordination of care and medication among several specialists due to its complex nature, but many patients do not have access to multiple specialties due to geographical or insurance barriers. Because some patients cannot be treated in Centers of Excellence, easy access to reliable and up-to-date information is important to empower physicians, patients, and their caregivers in managing the condition, along with general community outreach programs.