A rare disease usually concerns only a handful of patients, but all patients with a rare disease combined represent a significant health burden. Due to limited knowledge and the absence of treatment guidelines, patients with rare diseases usually experience delayed diagnosis and suboptimal treatment. Historically, rare diseases have never been considered a major health problem. However, rare diseases have recently been receiving increased attention. In the Netherlands, a national plan for rare diseases was published in late 2013, with recommendations on how to improve the organisation of healthcare for people with rare diseases. Using the example of the rare disease Fanconi anemia, this paper describes the challenges and opportunities in organising healthcare for rare diseases. Two critical steps in optimising healthcare for rare diseases are developing multidisciplinary healthcare teams and stimulating patient empowerment. Optimal cooperation between patients, patient organisations, multidisciplinary healthcare teams and scientists is of great importance. In this respect, transition to adult healthcare requires special attention.
Conflict of interest and financial support for this article: S.E. Smetsers received a grant from the Dutch Foundation for Curing Children of Cancer (‘KiKa’)during her PhD-studies.