Background: There is now an international partnership to establish global programs for patients with rare and undiagnosed diseases, involving interdisciplinary expert panels and phenotype-driven genetic analyses utilizing next-generation sequencing and analytics. Whereas it is crucial to have data such as the actual number of undiagnosed patients, to help inform the implementation plan with such programs, there have been no systematic studies to quantitate the numbers of patients principally because of the inherent difficulty in most health systems to identify patients whose condition has not yet been diagnosed and coded. Our national experience with a rare disease program, Nan-Byo which was established in 1972, and the more recently expanded Initiative on Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases (IRUD), provided a unique opportunity to design a cross-sectional study to ascertain the undiagnosed patients in Japan based on the IRUD referral criteria. Results: Two rounds of online surveys were performed: one survey targeting physicians affiliated with general hospitals (GH) and family clinics (FC) (the response rate: 30.6% (242/792)) and one nationwide survey targeting university hospitals (UH) in Japan (47.1% (839/1781)). A high percentage of doctors needing IRUD was seen in pediatrics at GH, FC, while there was a clear demand for IRUD in most departments at UH. We calculated the number of undiagnosed patients in Japan, as the "percentage of doctors needing IRUD" × "number of patients who would be referred to IRUD per doctor needing IRUD (cases/person)" × "total number of doctors in the relevant facilities in Japan (persons)", resulting in 3681 cases in pediatrics/pediatric surgery and 33,703 cases in other departments, for a total of 37,384 cases. Conclusions: Our study revealed the extant demand for IRUD in most departments and 37,000+ potential patients with undiagnosed diseases in the Japanese health system. These data inform the establishment of an equitable, sustainable, efficient and effective outpatient-based IRUD. These findings would serve as a valuable reference for undiagnosed diseases programs in different international jurisdictions and for countries and regions who also share vision(s) for societal implementation that help to advance international efforts to support patients with rare diseases who are direly waiting for diagnosis, subsequent treatment and care.
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