In individuals suffering from a rare disease the diagnostic process and the confirmation of a final diagnosis often extends over many years. Factors contributing to delayed diagnosis include health care professionals' limited knowledge of rare diseases and frequent (co-)occurrence of mental disorders that may complicate and delay the diagnostic process. The ZSE-DUO study aims to assess the benefits of a combination of a physician focusing on somatic aspects with a mental health expert working side by side as a tandem in the diagnostic process.
This multi-center, prospective controlled study has a two-phase cohort design.
Two cohorts of 682 patients each are sequentially recruited from 11 university-based German Centers for Rare Diseases (CRD): the standard care cohort (control, somatic expertise only) and the innovative care cohort (experimental, combined somatic and mental health expertise). Individuals aged 12 years and older presenting with symptoms and signs which are not explained by current diagnoses will be included. Data will be collected prior to (T0) and at the first visit (T1) to the CRD’s outpatient clinic and 12 months thereafter (T2).
Primary outcome is the percentage of patients with one or more confirmed diagnoses covering the symptomatic spectrum presented. Sample size is calculated to detect a 10 percent increase from 30% in standard care to 40% in the innovative dual expert cohort. Secondary outcomes are a) time to diagnosis/diagnoses explaining the symptomatology; b) proportion of patients successfully referred from CRD to standard care; c) costs of diagnosis including incremental cost effectiveness ratios; d) predictive value of screening instruments administered at T0 to identify patients with mental disorders ; e) patients’ quality of life and evaluation of care; and f) physicians’ satisfaction with the innovative care approach.
This is the first multi-center study to investigate the effects of a mental health specialist working in tandem with a somatic expert physician in CRDs. If this innovative approach proves successful, it will be made available on a larger scale nationally and promoted internationally. In the best case, ZSE-DUO can significantly shorten the time to diagnosis for a suspected rare disease.