Treatment decision-making in diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis: a patient's perspective

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2020 Aug 1;59(8):2052-2061. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kez579.


Objectives: To examine the treatment decision-making process of patients with dcSSc in the context of haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

Methods: A qualitative semi-structured interview study was done in patients before or after HSCT, or patients who chose another treatment than HSCT. Thematic analysis was used. Shared decision-making (SDM) was assessed with the 9-item Shared Decision Making Questionnaire (SDM-Q-9).

Results: Twenty-five patients [16 male/nine female, median age 47 (range 27-68) years] were interviewed: five pre-HSCT, 16 post-HSCT and four following other treatment. Whereas the SDM-Q-9 showed the decision-making process was perceived as shared [median score 81/100 (range 49-100)], we learned from the interviews that the decision was predominantly made by the rheumatologist, and patients were often steered towards a treatment option. Strong guidance of the rheumatologist was appreciated because of a lack of accessible, reliable and SSc-specific information, due to the approach of the decision-making process of the rheumatologist, the large consequence of the decision and the trust in their doctor. Expectations of outcomes and risks also differed between patients. Furthermore, more than half of patients felt they had no choice but to go for HSCT, due to rapid deterioration of health and the perception of HSCT as 'the holy grail'.

Conclusion: This is the first study that provides insight into the decision-making process in dcSSc. This process is negatively impacted by a lack of disease-specific education about treatment options. Additionally, we recommend exploring patients' preferences and understanding of the illness to optimally guide decision-making and to provide tailor-made information.

Keywords: SSc; decision-making; haematopoietic stem cell transplantation; patient perspective; qualitative research; shared decision-making.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • Decision Making, Shared*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Participation*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Quality of Life*
  • Scleroderma, Diffuse / therapy*