Social and medical needs of rare metabolic patients: results from a MetabERN survey

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2021 Aug 3;16(1):336. doi: 10.1186/s13023-021-01948-5.


Background: Many surveys have been performed over the years to assess the medical and social requirements of patients with a rare disease, but no studies have focused specifically on patients in Europe or with an inherited metabolic disease (IMD). To obtain a comprehensive overview of the social and psychological status and needs of IMD patients, especially in Europe, the European Reference Network for Hereditary Metabolic Disorders (MetabERN) has performed a dedicated survey among its metabolic patients.

Results: A total of 924 patients and caregivers responded to the questionnaire. Most participants were from 25 European countries, with Spain, Italy, and Germany being the most represented; only eight participants were extra-European. The survey showed that most social assistance services, from free educational/development services for those with intellectual disability to transition from childhood to adult care and job placement support, are available for a limited number of patients or are unknown to the majority of patients or their parents/caregivers. Similarly, psychological assistance for the patient or the parent/caregiver is available for a small fraction of respondents, despite the fact that the majority considers this type of support necessary for both the patient and the caregiver. In addition, for most IMD patients local specialised or emergency medical assistance is lacking, although national clinical pathways are defined, and medical professionals of reference are readily available when needed. Lastly, while most national health services in Europe cover all or part of the expenses for medications, medical devices, food supplements, dietary integrators, physiotherapy, and speech therapy, significant gaps in the economic support for healthcare and other expenses still exist.

Conclusions: Overall, our survey reveals a widespread lack of social, psychological, and economic support for IMD patients in Europe. More needs to be done to provide daily assistance to IMD patients in order to alleviate the burden on caregivers and to allow patients to become independent and productive adults. Where support is actually available locally or nationally, most IMD patients are not aware of it, so an active dissemination of this information among the metabolic community is essential.

Keywords: IMDs; Inherited metabolic diseases; Psychological support; Rare diseases; Social services.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caregivers*
  • Child
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Parents*
  • Rare Diseases
  • Surveys and Questionnaires