Barriers to care in juvenile localized and systemic scleroderma: an exploratory survey study of caregivers’ perspectives

Childhood Arthritis, Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) Scleroderma Workgroup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Juvenile localized scleroderma (LS) and systemic sclerosis (SSc) are rare pediatric conditions often associated with severe morbidities. Delays in diagnosis are common, increasing the risk for permanent damage and worse outcomes. This study explored caregiver perspectives on barriers they encountered while navigating diagnosis and care for their child’s scleroderma. Methods: In this cross-sectional study, caregivers of juvenile LS or SSc patients were recruited from a virtual family scleroderma educational conference and a juvenile scleroderma online interest group. The survey queried respondents about their child’s condition and factors affecting diagnosis and treatment. Results: The response rate was 61% (73/120), with 38 parents of LS patients and 31 parents of SSc patients. Most patients were female (80%) and over half were non-Hispanic white (55%). Most families had at least one person with a college education or higher (87%), traveled ≤ 2 h to see their rheumatologist (83%), and had private insurance (75%). Almost half had an annual household income ≥ $100,000 (46%). Families identified the following factors as barriers to care: lack of knowledge about scleroderma in the medical community, finding reliable information about pediatric scleroderma, long wait times/distances for a rheumatology/specialist appointment, balance of school/work and child’s healthcare needs, medication side effects, and identifying effective medications. The barrier most identified as a major problem was the lack of knowledge about juvenile scleroderma in the medical community. Public insurance, household income less than $100,000, and Hispanic ethnicity were associated with specific barriers to care. Lower socioeconomic status was associated with longer travel times to see the rheumatologist/specialist. Diagnosis and systemic treatment initiation occurred at greater than one year from initial presentation for approximately 28% and 36% of patients, respectively. Families of LS patients were commonly given erroneous information about the disease, including on the need and importance of treating active disease with systemic immunosuppressants in patients with deep tissue or rapidly progressive disease. Conclusion: Caregivers of children with LS or SSc reported numerous common barriers to the diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care of juvenile scleroderma. The major problem highlighted was the lack of knowledge of scleroderma within the general medical community. Given that most of the caregiver respondents to the survey had relatively high socioeconomic status, additional studies are needed to reach a broader audience, including caregivers with limited English proficiency, geographical limitations, and financial constraints, to determine if the identified problems are generalizable. Identifying key care barriers will help direct efforts to address needs, reduce disparities in care, and improve patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalPediatric Rheumatology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Health care disparities
  • Localized scleroderma
  • Morphea
  • Systemic scleroderma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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