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Adherence Training Key to Improved Coordination of Care, Use of Specialty Drugs

I have been fortunate enough in my career to do humanitarian work in East Africa, and I have witnessed incredible health care service performed despite a paucity of resources. Conversely, one of the many health care tragedies in that part of the world is the downward therapeutic outcome spiral due to unattended simple maladies. An untreated toe could turn into a raging skin infection or worse. A simple break of a person’s leg improperly set could leave that person crippled for life.

Joel L. Zive

Joel L. Zive

In the United States, we have a different set of complex issues affecting our health care system. But there is a beacon of hope with some of the most vexing health care issues:  specialty drugs. Yes, they have annual costs that approach the length of phone numbers, but research and development costs must be taken into consideration.

Yet when one evaluates the pain and suffering these compounds alleviate – sometimes also saving money for our health care system in the areas of solid organ transplant rejection, HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer for example – real value emerges.

Despite their high expense, there are organizations, including the HealthWell Foundation, that help patients pay for access to these medications. And do not forget social workers, case managers and an army of master insurance billers in doctor’s offices and pharmacies across the country.

Yet these drugs carry with them a promise and a peril: A promise if their regimens, with high pill burden, are adhered to and the side-effects are understood. And a peril to the patient and unnecessary high cost to our health care system.

What person who deals in specialty drugs has not been brought to the brink of tears due to the frustration of non-adherence? Of a transplant patient who never told their pharmacist or transplant coordinator that he stopped taking their immunosuppressive medications and lost their transplanted organ? The efforts of the pharmacists, nurses, prescribers, surgeons, transplant coordinators, social workers that were wasted along with precious time and money are horrifying.

On the other hand, you have a patient newly transplanted or newly diagnosed with a complex disease. Frightened, scared — even angry — wondering whether they can afford medications to stave off dialysis or stay alive. In my career, I have seen first-hand examples of turnarounds in patients’ attitudes and quality of life due to these medications and adherence training:

  • A kidney transplant patient who was on dialysis for years who saw other patients go into dialysis walking, then in a wheelchair, then on a gurney before expiring.
  • Another patient at the dialysis center who announced one day, “I give up.” This individual had sufficient motivation but still needed guidance and assurance he would get his medications in a timely manner. Now, this person is rebuilding a life for himself and his family.
  • A woman tired, frail and scared lying in a hospital bed post-transplant wondering how she will live the rest of her life. With encouragement and adherence training she is now flying cross-country to see her relatives.
  • Another patient was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis in the prime of his life. Yes, he had difficulty dealing with his insurance company and their specialty pharmacy.  But he had help and encouragement from an outside specialty pharmacy. And with patience and persistence from others he is now in graduate school.

What do these examples underscore? That although the United States enjoys an abundance of health care resources compared to Africa, what we’re missing is the coordination of care. Sometimes this is due to the health care system and sometimes this is because of the patient.

There are a couple of strategies providers can employ to improve this situation:

  • This scenario I saw first-hand in Rwanda.  If a pharmacist senses there is something not right mentally with the patient, he can contact a social worker in the clinic for further workup.
  • Another approach includes an agreement among the multidisciplinary team about what the adherence goals  should be. If the goals seem to be remiss, then the pharmacist could be notified, and he could handle the issue or direct it to the appropriate provider.

In both cases, there is feedback among the health care team. In the area of specialty drugs, adherence training can fill and highlight these gaps to the patient’s benefit.  As my colleagues in East Africa have told me, “We admire your health care system.”

We have many issues to be worked out and negotiated in the weeks, months and years ahead.  But let’s use adherence training to give my colleagues overseas something they can aspire toward and emulate.

What other strategies can providers employ to improve coordination of care? How can hospitals, government and health care industry stakeholders coordinate to become part of the solution when it comes to more effective adherence training?

Kaiser Permanente Gives Providers Evidence-Based Tools to Increase Adherence

At an industry conference years ago, I met an HIV-positive patient. We spoke about her treatment as well as her adherence program. “Who takes care of you?” I asked. “Kaiser Permanente,” she responded. Afterward, I did a little research and discovered this was one of the first HMOs created in the United States that takes care of millions of patients. Based in Oakland, California, their goal is “supporting preventative medicine and attempting to educate its members about maintaining their own health.”

Joel L. Zive

Joel L. Zive

Adherence remains a capstone in caring for patients after medications are dispensed and is an especially important issue for indigent populations. But now with implementation of health care reform fast approaching, patients will be required to take even more responsibility for their health, including adherence to medication regimens. Although no integrated health care structure is perfect, Kaiser’s integrative model fascinates me and allows its health care teams to implement successful adherence strategies.

For example, a Kaiser physician at the South San Francisco Medical Center conducted a hypertension study (“Improved Blood Pressure Control Associated With a Large-Scale Hypertension Program”) that compared their program’s results to those at the state and national level. The outcomes are startling:

  • The Kaiser Hypertension control rate nearly doubled, skyrocketing from 43.6 percent in 2001 to 80.4 percent in 2009.  
  • In contrast, the national mean of hypertensive control went from 55.4 to only 64.1 percent during the same time period.

One aspect of this program included using single pill combination therapy, which has been shown to boost adherence. In a slightly different approach to adherence in hypertension, Kaiser Permanente Northern California and UC San Francisco were recently awarded an $11 million grant to fund a stroke prevention program by targeting and treating hypertension among African Americans and young adults.

By Googling “Kaiser Permanente adherence” the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research appears. Their published research draws from Kaiser Permanente units throughout their network, collaborations with academic institutions nationwide, and the HMO Research Network – a consortium of 18 health care delivery organizations with both defined patient populations and formal, recognized research capabilities. These resources provide clinicians and pharmacists with a plethora of study designs and disease states from which to choose and evaluate.

In the study “Determination of optimized multidisciplinary care team for maximal antiretroviral therapy adherence,” for example, a multidisciplinary care team was assigned to patients with new antiretroviral drug regimens. Because this model translated to improved adherence rates, clinical teams around the country now use some variation of a multidisciplinary approach, enabling each discipline’s area of expertise to benefit the patient.

Another article from Kaiser — “Health Literacy and Antidepressant Medication Adherence Among Adults with Diabetes: The Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE)” – demonstrates that adherence is multifactorial.  This study’s conclusions underscore the importance of health care literacy components, simplifying health communications for treatment options, executing an enhanced public relations campaign around depression and monitoring refill rates.

In my experience, if someone with mental health issues does not take his or her medications, then regardless of disease state, the patient’s treatment falls off the track. I approach these difficult situations by drawing on the conclusions of the above studies:

  • First, is there a different message I could give the patient? Or am I reaching the patient at a level of health care literacy he could understand? For example, I had a deaf patient who found it tiresome writing messages back and forth to me. When I realized he “speaks” to people via a teletype machine, I began communicating with him via word processing software. This made our communications less cumbersome. And this improved adherence to his regime because he was less frustrated.
  • Next, the multidisciplinary approach is quite powerful. When I served HIV-positive patients in the South Bronx, if anything occurred that affected adherence, the prescriber, nurse, social worker or case manager immediately were made aware. Sometimes we would discontinue the regimen and other times we would tweak the regimen and get the patient back on treatment.

The real adherence tragedy for indigent patients is not whether they receive medication, but whether they have access to the tools, education and knowledge they need to take their meds as prescribed. Leveraging articles from resources like Kaiser’s Division of Research may be the solution to reversing the trend of low adherence.

Now we want to hear from you. If you’re a patient, has your doctor or pharmacist worked with you to improve med adherence? If you’re a provider, what resources have you found to be useful when helping patients understand why they should take meds as prescribed? Share your stories in the comments.

Categories: Access to Care

With a Little Help from My Friends, Family… And Apps

“Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” – C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General

It was an idea born of near tragedy: an elderly, diabetic father who double-dosed on his insulin therapy and suffered a medical emergency. His two sons realized that if they were more involved in reviewing their father’s daily medication and insulin regimens, it could change his behavior for the better and help him get healthier.

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Photos courtesy of NextGen Healthcare

So Omri and Rotem Shor co-founded the MediSafe Project, a free mobile app that makes it easier for families and friends to give the support needed to help their loved ones get healthier and integrate healthier behavior modification into their everyday lives. In the first four months after its launch, users reported medication adherence rates of 79 percent (82.25 percent for statins) – well above the 50 percent average medication adherence rate reported by the World Health Organization.

The MediSafe Project provides an easy-to-use interface – an interactive pillbox of sorts — over iOS and Android mobile phones. Users input information about their meds by typing their names or photographing their National Drug Code numbers. The system stores the correct pharmaceutical name, manufacturer and dosage, ensuring an error-free medication list in the event of a medical emergency. Users signify taking their meds by dragging pills from the virtual pillbox into a mouth icon, which “swallows” the pills.

Users receive alerts before medication courses are completed, allowing them to order refills in a timely manner. In addition to reminding users when it’s time to take their medication, the MediSafe Project sends alerts to selected family members, friends and caretakers when a loved one misses a dose. Users can also email a personalized list of adherence stats to their doctor, giving doctors better patient oversight between office visits. A prescription page feature lets doctors “prescribe” the MediSafe project to their patients to help better monitor medication adherence.

The impact of non-adherence on the outcomes of patients with cardiovascular diseases is one example that underscores why it is so critical to implement strategies and utilize technologies that improve medication adherence.

“Medication non-adherence is a problem that costs U.S. hospitals billions of dollars every year,” says Omri “Bob” Shor, CEO, MediSafe. “An American dies every nineteen minutes from skipping or taking medication incorrectly. Our goal is to help combat this problem and encourage healthy habits among users and their support systems with easy-to-use technology.”

The MediSafe Project isn’t the only app on the medication adherence scene. The free NextGen® MedicineCabinet app lets users create and update a list of medications, including dosing and schedule information, thus creating their own “personal” medication record.

Notifications are sent for each medication and users can confirm adherence. The app was designed, in part, to improve adherence and proper use of medication by enhancing patients’ understanding of how to correctly take their medication and to recognize adverse reactions. According to the company, it also equips health care professionals with all the relevant information they need, in a way they like to view it.

“Mobile patient engagement is at the forefront of today’s changing health care environment,” said Ike Ellison, executive vice president of business development for NextGen Healthcare, in a statement. “Providing consumer technology that encourages members to control and lead healthier lifestyles is a key factor in improving outcomes.”

Michael Paquin, vice president, business development for NextGen Healthcare, added “One of our users commented on the way that she was able to, for the first time, be able to share her medication lists easily with family, friends and all her physicians. It has saved this particular patient hours of time on a monthly basis.”

Technology-based solutions like the MediSafe Project and the NextGen Medicine Cabinet are among the latest patient-directed tools that improve medication adherence.

However, providers still play an important role in assisting patients in maintaining healthy behaviors like medication adherence. The American College of Preventive Medicine offers a SIMPLE approach on how providers can help their patients take their medications as prescribed.

Barriers to medication compliance abound, with memory issues, lack of support, and lack of education just being a few. What is behind these barriers? How can patient behaviors and motivations be changed?

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Categories: Access to Care