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  • Writer's pictureAna Sofia Correia

Empowering the rare disease community: Overcoming communication challenges

Updated: May 29

Communicating information about rare diseases effectively is a complex task that requires a nuanced understanding of both the subject matter and the target audience. This article explores the multifaceted challenges of engaging and informing the rare disease community and offers actionable solutions.

Empowering the Rare Disease Community: Overcoming Communication Challenges

Challenge 1: Conveying complex information clearly

Rare diseases often come with complicated medical terminology and concepts that may overwhelm non-specialists. The primary challenge is to simplify these concepts without omitting crucial details.

▶ Solution: Adopt a layered information approach

A strategy to tackle this is starting with a brief overview that captures the essence of the topic, followed by progressively detailed sections for those seeking in-depth information. A brochure on a rare metabolic disorder could begin with an easy explanation of the condition and its symptoms, then detail treatment options, and finally explore ongoing research.

Challenge 2: Addressing cultural and linguistic nuances

Cultural sensitivity is essential in medical translation, especially for rare diseases. Translating rare disease information requires more than linguistic fluency; it demands an understanding of cultural context and sensitivities, beliefs about illness, and healthcare practices. Missteps here can lead to misinterpretation and alienation.

▶ Solution: Engage with cultural consultants and employ localization strategies

Cultural consultants and local patient advocacy groups can shed light on the cultural and emotional layers influencing patient reception of information. This ensures that the translation not only is linguistically accurate but also culturally respectful and tailored to the audience, particularly in explaining symptoms and treatment practices.

Challenge 3: Balancing technical accuracy with patient accessibility

One of the most significant challenges in developing rare disease information is striking the right balance between technical accuracy and accessibility. The content must be scientifically sound and detailed, yet understandable to patients and their families.

▶ Solution: Develop dual-pathway content

Consider creating two versions of materials - one for healthcare professionals and another for patients. Use analogies and straightforward language to elucidate medical concepts in the patient version, while incorporating technical details and study references in the professional version. Cross-referencing both versions can enhance understanding and communication between patients and healthcare providers. Additionally, plain language summaries can significantly improve accessibility, making complex information digestible and actionable for non-specialists and patients alike.

Challenge 4: Using technology effectively

While technology can improve efficiency and consistency, an overdependence on automated tools may degrade the quality of rare disease information, affecting relevance and empathy.

▶ Solution: Integrate technology strategically

Use automated tools to support rather than replace human expertise. Involve subject matter experts and native speakers in each project to ensure the content adheres to the high standards of medical communication. For instance, terminology management tools can aid in maintaining consistency in the use of rare disease terminology. Nevertheless, the final output must be meticulously reviewed for context, scientific accuracy, and cultural appropriateness.

Challenge 5: Ensuring up-to-date information

Rare diseases are often the subject of ongoing research, which means that new findings and treatments are regularly reported. Keeping the information up to date can be particularly challenging, especially when translating and disseminating across different languages and regions.

▶ Solution: Implement a regular review process

Create a structured process for periodically reviewing and updating all informational materials to reflect the latest research and treatment options. This could involve setting up alerts for new publications on rare diseases and connecting with research institutions to receive updates.

Challenge 6: Managing variability in information quality

The quality and reliability of rare disease information can vary significantly, especially given the scarcity of research for some conditions. This variability poses a challenge in ensuring that the information provided is accurate and based on the best available evidence.

▶ Solution: Establish rigorous source verification protocols

Adopt strict criteria for selecting sources, prioritizing peer-reviewed journals, reputable medical organizations, and official health guidelines. Sources must be critically evaluated to differentiate between well-established facts and emerging theories or anecdotal evidence.

Challenge 7: Accessibility for diverse audiences

Rare disease information needs to be accessible not just linguistically and culturally, but also in formats that are inclusive of people with disabilities, such as the visual or hearing impaired.

▶ Solution: Enhance accessibility features

Ensure that written materials are available in accessible formats, such as large print, Braille, or audio recordings. For digital content, follow web accessibility guidelines to make information navigable and understandable for users with disabilities, including the use of alternative text for images and captions or transcripts for videos.

Challenge 8: Geographic disparities in information availability

Patients and healthcare providers in remote or under-resourced areas often face significant barriers to accessing rare disease information, which can exacerbate health disparities.

▶ Solution: Leverage digital platforms and mobile technology

Develop online platforms and mobile applications that can deliver rare disease information to wider audiences, including those in remote locations. Partner with local healthcare providers and community organizations to promote these resources and ensure they are tailored to the needs and capabilities of the local population.

Challenge 9: Emotional and psychological impact

The delivery of rare disease information can have a significant emotional and psychological impact on patients and families, who may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or isolated upon receiving a diagnosis or learning about their condition.

▶ Solution: Incorporate support resources

Beyond providing medical information, develop resources on emotional support and coping strategies. This could involve links to patient support groups, counseling services, and practical advice on managing the psychological aspects of living with a rare disease.

Challenge 10: Personalizing information for individual patients

Rare diseases often affect individuals in unique ways, making it challenging to create general information that applies to everyone.

▶ Solution: Develop modular content that can be customized

Create patient education materials that include general information about the disease, with sections that can be personalized based on the patient's specific condition, treatment plan, and other relevant factors.


The effective communication of rare disease information is a collaborative effort aimed not only at enhancing the quality and accessibility of materials but also at improving patient care and outcomes in the rare disease community. This requires a strategic approach to ensure that patients, families, and healthcare providers have access to relevant, accurate, and understandable information.

If you want to learn more about rare diseases, I invite you to check the following websites:


Ana Sofia is an English to Portuguese medical translator and writer working with Life Sciences companies, Contract Research Organizations, and Medical Communication agencies. She has experience translating and writing content for clinical trials, medical devices, regulatory submissions, education and marketing campaigns, and scientific publications.


Med & Mark - A blog about medical and marketing translation
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