Background: Vascular anomalies (VAs) are rare congenital disorders that can cause pain, disfigurement, coagulopathy, asymmetric growth, and disability. Patients with complex VAs experience multiple barriers to accessing expert care. It is imperative to understand which factors support these patients’ ability to navigate the healthcare system. Results: We surveyed adult patients with VAs using previously validated measures, recruiting participants from five patient advocacy groups and multidisciplinary VA clinics. The primary outcome was self-reported ability to access needed medical care, using the “Navigating the Healthcare System” subscale of the Health Literacy Questionnaire. We evaluated factors associated with the ability to navigate the healthcare system using multivariate linear regression (n = 136). We also performed an exploratory model that included the primary care doctor’s knowledge of VAs for the subset of participants with a primary care doctor (n = 114). Participants were predominantly women (n = 90, 66%), White and non-Hispanic (n = 109, 73%), and college-educated (n = 101, 73%). Most participants had PIK3CA-Related Overgrowth Spectrum (n = 107, 78%). Most participants reported that navigating the healthcare system was “sometimes” or “usually difficult” (mean score 16.4/30, standard deviation 5.6). In multivariate linear regression, ability to navigate the healthcare system was associated positively with quality of information exchange (β = 0.38, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.22 to 0.55, p <.001) and whether patients had VA specialists (β = 2.31, 95% CI 0.35 to 4.28, p =.021), but not associated with patient self-advocacy, anxiety, education, age, race and ethnicity, gender, or having a primary care doctor. In exploratory analysis of participants with primary care doctors, ability to navigate the healthcare system was positively associated with quality of information exchange (β = 0.27, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.45, p =.004), having a VA specialist (β = 2.31, 95% CI 0.22 to 4.39, p =.031), and primary care doctors’ VA knowledge (β = 0.27, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.50, p =.023). Conclusion: Patients with VAs struggle to navigate the healthcare system. High-quality information from clinicians and more knowledgeable primary care doctors might help patients to access needed care. Relying on patient self-advocacy is insufficient. Future efforts should focus on patient-directed and clinician-directed educational interventions. Additionally, future work should assess the structural barriers that impede healthcare access for these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number18
JournalOrphanet Journal of Rare Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024


  • Communication
  • Health Care Access
  • Rare disease
  • Vascular anomaly
  • Vascular malformation


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