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This article has been peer reviewed. It is the author’s final published version in Journal of medical Internet research, Volume 20, Issue 10, October 2018, Page e11168.

The published version is available at Copyright © Simacek et al.


BACKGROUND: In the United States, people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) can face difficulty accessing disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) because of insurance, pharmacy, or provider policies. These barriers have been associated with poor adherence and negative health outcomes.

OBJECTIVE: The goals of this study were to describe the overall occurrence of difficulties and delays associated with gaining access to DMTs among people with RRMS, to assess DMT adherence during periods of reduced access, and to contextualize the patients' journey from receipt of a prescription for DMT to obtaining and taking their medication when faced with access barriers.

METHODS: We recruited US-based adults self-reporting RRMS from a Web-based health data-sharing social network, PatientsLikeMe. Individuals were invited to complete a Web-based survey if they reported a diagnosis of RRMS and were prescribed a DMT for MS. Follow-up phone interviews were conducted with 10 respondents who reported experiencing an MS-related relapse during the time they had experienced challenges accessing DMTs.

RESULTS: Among 507 survey completers, nearly half were either currently experiencing an issue related to DMT assess or had difficulty accessing a DMT in the past (233/507, 46.0%). The most frequently reported reasons for access difficulty were authorization requirements by insurance companies (past issues: 78/182, 42.9%; current issues: 9/42, 21%) and high out-of-pocket costs (past issues: 54/182, 29.7%; current issues: 13/42, 31%). About half (20/39, 51%) of participants with current access issues and over a third (68/165, 41.2%) of those with past issues went without their medication until they could access their prescribed DMT. Relapses were reported during periods of reduced DMT access for almost half (56/118, 47.5%) of those with past issues and nearly half (22/45, 49%) of those with current issues. Resolving access issues involved multiple stakeholder agents often coordinated in a patient-led effort. Among those who had resolved issues, about half (57/119, 47.9%) reported that doctors or office staff were involved, under half (48/119, 40.3%) were involved themselves, and about a third (39/119, 32.8%) reported the drug manufacturer was involved in resolving the issue. Follow-up interviews revealed that the financial burden associated with obtaining a prescribed DMT led to nonadherence. Additionally, participants felt that DMT treatment delays and stress associated with obtaining the DMT triggered relapses or worsened their MS.

CONCLUSIONS: This study expands current research by using a patient-centered, mixed-methods approach to describe barriers to MS treatment, the process to resolve barriers, and the perceived impact of treatment barriers on outcomes. Issues related to DMT access occur frequently, with individuals often serving as their own agents when navigating access difficulties to obtain their medication(s). Support for resolution of DMT access is needed to prevent undue stress and nonadherence.

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