Journal Article
Multicenter Study
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Delivering the diagnosis of multiple system atrophy: a multicenter survey on Japanese neurologists' perspectives.

BMC Neurology 2024 May 14
BACKGROUND: Multiple system atrophy (MSA) is a progressive, incurable, life-threatening neurodegenerative disease uniquely characterized by the risk of sudden death, which makes diagnosis delivery challenging for neurologists. Empirical studies on breaking a diagnosis of MSA are scarce, with no guidelines currently established. This study aimed to investigate neurologists' current practices and experiences in delivering the diagnosis of MSA.

METHODS: We conducted a multicenter online survey and employed a mixed-methods (quantitative and qualitative) study design in which responses to open-ended questions were analyzed qualitatively using critical incident technique.

RESULTS: Among the 194 neurologists surveyed, 166 opened the survey (response rate = 85.6%), of whom 144 respondents across various Japanese regions completed the survey. Accordingly, 92.3% and 82.8% of the participating neurologists perceived delivering the diagnosis of MSA and explaining the risk of sudden death as difficult, respectively. Factors independently associated with difficulties in diagnosis delivery included explaining the importance of the family decision making process in life-prolonging treatment, perceived difficulties in delivering information regarding the risk of sudden death, and perceived difficulties in differential diagnosis of MSA.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings showed that the majority of neurologists perceived delivering the diagnosis of MSA and explaining the risk of sudden death as difficult, which could have been associated with the difficulty of breaking the diagnosis of MSA. Difficulty in conveying bad news in MSA are caused by various factors, such as empathic burden on neurologists caused by the progressive and incurable nature of MSA, the need to explain complex and important details, including the importance of the family decision-making process in life-prolonging treatment, difficulty of MSA diagnosis, and communication barriers posed by mental status and cognitive impairment in patients or their family members. Neurologists consider various factors in explaining the risk of sudden death (e.g., patient's personality, mental state, and degree of acceptance and understanding) and adjust their manner of communication, such as limiting their communication on such matters or avoiding the use of the term "sudden death" in the early stages of the disease. Although neurologists endeavor to meet the basic standards of good practice, there is room for the multiple aspects for improvement.

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