“I think we really gained insight to how a more holistic approach benefited the patient,” Lawrence Eichenfield, MD, professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, said in an interview.
At the 2021 annual meeting of the International Society of Atopic Dermatitis, he and his colleagues described a pilot program to bring the specialists together at UCSD and Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego.
Typically, children seeking care for atopic dermatitis see allergists and dermatologists separately for 10- to 15-minute appointments. The specialists sometimes prescribe treatments that conflict or are redundant with each other and may give contradictory instructions.
Instead, Dr. Eichenfield and colleagues designed a program bringing patients in for initial assessments lasting 1-1.5 hours. Patients typically started with visits to a clinical pharmacist, who assessed what medications had been prescribed and how much the patients were actually taking.
The patients then proceeded to separate appointments with an allergist and a dermatologist for evaluations. These specialists then met face to face to develop a treatment plan. At least one of the specialists would then present the plan to the patient and the patient’s family.
“We had a rich set of educational materials that were developed and put online that helped with shared decision-making and increased comfort level with appropriate skin care and medication,” Dr. Eichenfield said.
He and his colleagues assigned a physician assistant trained in both pediatric dermatology and pediatric allergy to coordinate the clinic. They designed combined pediatric dermatology and pediatric allergy fellowships for two fellows. “So, part of this program ended up allowing specially trained individuals who overlapped in fields that traditionally were separate,” said Dr. Eichenfield.
To see how well the approach worked, the researchers followed the progress of 23 patients who were already receiving treatment at one or both of the institutions.
- Eczema Area and Severity Index (EASI) scores decreased from visit 1 to visit 2 by a mean of 15.36 (P < .001), which correlates to a 56.36% average decrease.
- In 20 patients (89.96%), in EASI scores improved 50%.
- Thirteen patients (56.54%) achieved 75% improvement in EASI scores.
- Body surface area scores improved by a mean of 23.21% (P = .002).
- Validated Investigator Global Assessment scores decreased in 56.52% of patients to a clinically significant level.
The study did not include any control group, nor did the researchers report any details on how long the patients had been treated before the multidisciplinary program started or how their prescriptions changed.
Patients benefited from the comprehensive assessment of their symptoms, said Dr. Eichenfield, also chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at Rady Children’s Hospital. “Some had significant environmental allergies that might not have been a contributing factor to their atopic dermatitis,” he explained. “The complexities of comorbidities and atopic dermatitis influence the patient, even if one disease state isn’t necessarily directly causative of the other.”
In surveys, patients said they especially appreciated the increased time spent with their specialists. “No one’s ever spent an hour teaching us about eczema,” some commented. The approach motivated patients to take their home treatment more effectively, Dr. Eichenfield believed.
Primary care physicians did not participate in the multidisciplinary program, but the specialists communicated with them and shared electronic medical records with them, he said.
Without a control group, it is hard to say how much difference the multidisciplinary approach made, Jonathan I. Silverberg, MD, PhD, MPH, associate professor of dermatology and director of clinical research and contact dermatitis at George Washington University, Washington, said in an interview.
“What it does show is that there is significant improvement in a variety of endpoints within this multidisciplinary approach,” Dr. Silverberg said in an interview. “And so I have no doubt that this is valid and that a multidisciplinary approach would really improve, holistically, many aspects of patient care.”
Dr. Silverberg ran a multidisciplinary program at Northwestern University, Chicago, which included sleep medicine, endocrinology, gastroenterology, and other specialties as well as dermatology, allergy, and pharmacy.
However, Dr. Silverberg pointed out, a multidisciplinary approach is more expensive than standard care because when specialists spend more time with each patient, they see fewer patients per day. “So many health care systems or academic institutions are not as open as they should be to this kind of interdisciplinary care, which is why it’s so important to have outcome measures showing that this approach actually works.”
Dr. Eichenfield and Dr. Silverberg had no relevant disclosures.
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