Background: Studies have shown the positive effects of multidisciplinary rehabilitation on disability and health-related quality of life in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, many patients do not seek such treatment, even if it is available free of charge. The aim of this study was to identify facilitators and barriers related to use of such treatment options.
Methods: Five focus group interviews with 27 MS patients were conducted. Three groups included patients who had been admitted to a multidisciplinary MS rehabilitation institution, and two groups included outpatients of a university hospital who had not applied for specialized rehabilitation. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed, and were analyzed qualitatively by means of a modified form of systematic text condensation.
Results: Important factors influencing the use of an MS rehabilitation service were 1) the availability and suitability of initial information about the disease and the service, 2) assumptions and expectations about such a service, and 3) practical barriers in the patient's life. The prospect of having a retreat from work and family was described as a motivational factor. Lack of reorientation after diagnosis, fears and perceptions of being labeled as an MS patient, or having information overload and being confronted with disabled individuals were identified as barriers.
Conclusions: Communication skills, including information-giving skills, of neurologists in relation to newly diagnosed MS patients need improvement. Rehabilitation programs for MS patients should include stays of different durations and purposes to fit patients' needs. Health-care authorities should take measures to secure equal access to information about rehabilitation options across institutions and practicing physicians.