Illness representations of systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis: a comparison of patients, their rheumatologists and their general practitioners

Lupus Sci Med. 2017 Nov 14;4(1):e000232. doi: 10.1136/lupus-2017-000232. eCollection 2017.


Objective: Discrepancies in illness representations between patients and physicians result in treatment difficulties, decreased well-being of patients and misunderstandings and disrupted communication. Hence, the objective of this study was to compare illness perceptions of individual patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and systemic sclerosis (SSc), their rheumatologists and their general practitioners (GPs) and explore potential differences.

Methods: This study has a cross-sectional design. Patients with SLE and SSc, who were followed at the rheumatology department of the University Hospitals Leuven (Belgium), completed the revised Illness Perception Questionnaire which measures patients' perceptions of their condition and captures nine dimensions. Physicians completed the Revised Illness Perception Questionnaire for Healthcare Professionals which consists of seven dimensions and measures perceptions of the healthcare professional regarding the disease of their patients. Intraclass correlation was performed to examine relationships between pairs of respondents; Cohen's d was used for estimating the magnitude of the difference.

Results: Questionnaires were sent to 284 patients of whom 241 (113 SSc and 128 SLE patients) were included. Five rheumatologists and 160 GPs participated. For both diseases, positive correlations were found for 'consequences', 'illness coherence' and 'emotional representations' among patients, rheumatologists and GPs. GPs scored higher on the 'consequences' of these diseases for the patient (d=0.71 for SLE; d=0.80 for SSc). Differences between rheumatologists and GPs were small for SSc and moderate to large for 'consequences' (d=0.56) and 'timeline acute/chronic' (d=0.95) in SLE with higher scores for GPs.

Conclusions: For both diseases and among the three groups, significant correlations are detected for the dimensions 'consequences', 'illness coherence' and 'emotional representations'. Differences between rheumatologists and GPs were mainly detected in the case of SLE patients. This can have implications for the collaboration between these two groups of physicians in daily clinical practice.

Clinical trial registration: NCT02655640; Pre-results.

Keywords: multidisciplinary team-care; patient perspective; psychology; systemic lupus erythematosus; systemic sclerosis.

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