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More than a month after launch, iPLEDGE glitches persist


More than a month after the launch of the new iPLEDGE Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program, the operation still isn’t running smoothly for many dermatologists, pharmacists, and patients. That’s despite improvement attempts by the Food and Drug Administration, which mandates the program to prevent fetal exposure to the teratogenic effects of isotretinoin, and by the American Academy of Dermatology Association, whose members have repeatedly asked the FDA for meetings to discuss solutions. The AADA is the legislative and advocacy arm of AAD.

When the new program launched Dec. 13, 2021, the website crashed repeatedly, with physicians and patients complaining they got locked out or bounced off the platform when they tried to follow instructions to enter information. Hold times to talk to a live person stretched to hours.

The latest improvement attempt, announced Jan. 14 by the FDA, is a tool created by the Isotretinoin Products Manufacturers Group, the manufacturers responsible for the FDA-mandated REMS program. It is meant to allow prescribers and designees to send log-in links directly to patients’ email accounts through the iPLEDGE REMS portal, bypassing the troublesome call center.

And it’s not the answer, dermatologists said.

“The new tool does not solve issues such as prescribers or pharmacies not being able to access the site, unacceptably long call center wait times, inefficiencies caused by frequent attestation requirements for those who cannot become pregnant, patients becoming ‘locked out’ because they missed a window period through no fault of their own, among others,” said John Barbieri, MD, MBA, director of the Advanced Acne Therapeutics Clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor in dermatology at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.

The day after the FDA update about the new tool, Klint Peebles, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in Washington, D.C., tweeted: “Lip service and empty words.” He noted that the situation has been “disastrous from the start” as the new platform launched.

Under the iPLEDGE program in place for the acne drug, physicians, patients, and pharmacies prescribing, using, or dispensing the drug must all be registered, with requirements that include the use of two forms of an effective contraceptive and regular pregnancy testing for patients who can become pregnant.

The aim of the new gender-neutral approach to the risk mitigation program is to make the experience more inclusive for transgender patients. The previous three risk categories (females of reproductive potential, females not of reproductive potential, and males) are now reduced to just two (those capable of getting pregnant and those not capable of getting pregnant).

The problem is the execution of the new platform. The transition from the old website to the new was done quickly. By most accounts, the Dec. 13 rollout was chaotic, a failure, and disastrous, triggering numerous expressions of frustration on Twitter and other social media, with some calling for the program to be halted until the bugs could be worked out.

“While the new gender-neutral categories are a welcome improvement to the system, the new categorization approach was not the underlying reason for the new platform and its failed rollout, which was instead due to a change in vendor,” Dr. Barbieri told this news organization.


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