Variation in clinical practice and its effect on outcome is little known for rare diseases such as primary antibody deficiency. As part of a national audit a survey of all 30 consultant immunologists in the United Kingdom dealing with primary antibody deficiency syndromes in adults and children was carried out in 1993 to ascertain their practices in diagnosis and management. Consensus guidelines were published after the survey was completed. Comparison of the survey results of clinical practice at the time the guidelines were published with the standards identified highlighted that the practice of a minority of specialists was at variance with their peers and with the consensus document, particularly in the use of intramuscular immunoglobulin, the dose and frequency of intravenous immunoglobulin, and target trough immunoglobulin G concentration, which has implications for the quality of patient care. However, much closer agreement existed in the key areas of management, such as diagnosis and selection of intravenous immunoglobulin. The approach and the problems identified are relevant to the management of other rare diseases, in which diagnosis and management is complex and there are few specialists with the necessary knowledge to undertake such care. This survey, the first attempted audit of practice, shows that within a motivated group of specialists highly significant differences in practice may exist and the authors emphasise the importance of setting clear guidelines against which care can be assessed.
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