Perception of Atopic Dermatitis Severity Often Differs Between Patients, Physicians

Doug Brunk

February 03, 2022

It's no secret that atopic dermatitis (AD) is associated with a high burden of disease, with an impact on sleep disturbance, increased anxiety, depression, reduced function and productivity at work and school, and overall decreased quality of life.

Dr Zelma Chiesa Fuxench

But to complicate matters, how patients rate the severity of their AD often differs from that of treating clinicians, according to Zelma Chiesa Fuxench, MD, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. For example, a cross-sectional study of 678 patients with AD, which assessed disease severity based on self-reports and physician-reported disease severity using components of the Eczema Area and Severity Index score, found that the level of agreement matched in about 68% of the cases. However, in about 32% of cases, there was a mismatch between how patients and physicians rated disease severity. In about 11% of the cases, patients reported a higher degree of disease severity, compared with physicians, while in about 20% of cases, patients reported lower disease severity, compared with the physician assessment.

"This has potential implications for overestimating or underestimating disease burden and could impact our treatment of AD patients," Chiesa Fuxench said at the Revolutionizing Atopic Dermatitis symposium.

The study also found that, while the pattern of agreement was not affected by the extent of AD in terms of the body surface area, the use of immunomodulatory drugs, or the Eczema Area and Severity Index (EASI) score, increased sleep disturbance did have an influence. Also, quality of life was lower and a higher impact on work productivity was observed when patients rated their disease severity higher than the rating of physicians.

Measures to Assess Disease Severity

"If we understand that there is mismatch between how a patient experiences their disease and how physicians rate it, what can we do to be better at assessing disease severity in AD to truly capture the full disease burden in patients with AD?" Chiesa Fuxench asked. She noted that different validated measures have been described in the literature, and objective assessment tools often used in clinical trials include the EASI and the SCORing Atopic Dermatitis (SCORAD). "These are measures that are done by the physician that take into account the extent of the body surface area involvement and also the intensity of the lesions such as how red or thick they are," she said. "In addition, the SCORAD will also take into account the patient-reported intensity level of itch and sleep loss."

The Patient-Oriented SCORAD (PO-SCORAD) is similar to the SCORAD except that it is completed by the patient or the patient's caregiver. In all three outcome measures, a higher score indicates a higher level of disease severity. Other measures that have been frequently described in the literature include the Patient-Oriented Eczema Measure (POEM), which takes into account seven symptoms scored over the last week (itch, sleep, weeping/oozing, cracking, flaking, and dryness/roughness), with higher scores indicating increased disease severity, and the Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI), which is a generic measure to assess the burden of skin diseases including AD. The DLQI "asks 10 questions as they relate to the impact of health-related quality of life over the last week, with higher scores indicating more severe disease," Chiesa Fuxench said.

There are also symptom-specific scales such as the Pruritus Numerical Rating Scale (Pruritus-NRS) that measures the impact of itch on a scale of 0 to 10, and the Three-Item Severity Scale (TIS) and the Validated Investigator Global Assessment (v-IGA) that are used to assess different measures in terms of intensity of the lesions."

However, the study that looked at the discordance between AD severity reported by physicians and patients also found that awareness and use of clinical and patient-reported measures for assessing AD disease severity among physicians was low. The authors further divided their findings among primary care physicians, dermatologists, and allergists/immunologists. "While dermatologists and allergists/immunologists reported being more aware of these outcome measures, a high proportion of physicians within this group were not using these outcomes measures in daily clinical practice," Chiesa Fuxench said.

"Is there a need for us to use more than one outcome measure instrument when trying to assess the impact of AD, understanding that many of us practice in a very busy clinical setting? The answer is probably yes. The use of multiple assessment tools that measure different domains could potentially help better capture the broad manifestations of AD, because of the complex nature of disease burden in this population. In addition, there are studies showing poor correlation between patient-reported and physician-assessed disease severity for various instruments, emphasizing the point that these measures may be capturing very different things."

With so many measures to choose from and limited time in the office, which ones should clinicians use? Harmonizing Outcome Measures for Eczema (HOME), based at the Center of Evidence-based Dermatology, at the University of Nottingham (England), is a consortium of patients and other key stakeholders in AD aiming to develop a consensus-based core outcome set for clinical trials and clinical practice. At a consensus meeting in 2018, the consortium reported that the PO-SCORAD and the POEM could be used in the clinical setting to better capture the true level of disease severity and burden in patients with AD.

The PO-SCORAD is also available as an App. A PO-SCORAD of less than 25 is associated with mild disease; a PO-SCORAD between 25 and 50 is associated with moderate disease, and a PO-SCORAD of greater than 50 is associated with severe disease.

"It's recommended that patients capture the PO-SCORAD once or twice a week," Chiesa Fuxench said, noting that the newer version of the App includes photos of different skin types to make it more relevant for a larger number of patients.

Another advantage of using the App is that a patient can track their disease severity through time. They can upload photographs, or they can send you a graphical input of their disease severity either through e-mail or print it out and bring it to their office visit to share the results with you."

A prospective observational European study of 471 adult and pediatric patients with AD found a statistically significant correlation between SCORAD and PO-SCORAD results at day 0 and day 28. A separate large study conducted in 12 countries found that PO-SCORAD was the only self-assessment score to be highly correlated with the SCORAD index and POEM (A Spearman's correlation coefficient of greater than or equal to 0.70). In that study, PO-SCORAD also correlated most closely with the results of the DLQI (r = 0.67) and the Dermatitis Family Questionnaire Impact DFQI (r = 0.56).

A more recent study of almost 300 adults with AD that examined the correlations between PO-SCORAD, POEM, and DLQI yielded similar findings.

Other researchers are aiming to assess the full burden of AD at the patient level. Drawing from a cross-sectional study called AWARE (Adults With Atopic Dermatitis Reporting on their Experience), an international observational study, investigators sought to identify what terms AD patients were using to describe their disease. The most commonly used terms were itch (37%), embarrassed (37%), annoyed (35%), pain (25%), and frustration (22%). "Although our study did not identify all patient-reported consequences of AD, such as the known impact of AD on sexual health, our qualitative approach has provided an understanding of patient perceptions and the underlying range of physical and emotional consequences of AD, which can inform shared decision-making," the authors wrote. "These findings suggest the need for broader assessment of the impact of AD on patients' lives," they added.

Chiesa Fuxench reported having no disclosures relevant to her presentation.

The study on AD severity reported by physicians and patients was funded by Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and several authors were employees of those companies.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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