Real World Health Care Blog

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Cultural Competency Key to Positive Health Outcomes

Early in my pharmacy career, a hospital social worker referred to me a deaf patient. He had a reputation for being rude and belligerent to providers. After our first encounter, I was no exception. However, after looking at health care from his perspective – slow communication, unthinking providers, long waits in the clinic – I had an idea.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

Instead of counseling him with a pad and pencil, I counseled him in front of a computer screen. I made the font larger, and we communicated in this fashion. He was ecstatic! I learned that many deaf people communicate with a device called a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), with which they can type responses and often learn to do so rapidly. Because I accounted for his unique point of view and modified my interactions with him accordingly, our relationship changed for the better.

For a provider, cultural competency involves understanding patients’ perceptions of their role in health care. When a provider or prescriber has that insight, significant improvements can occur in therapeutic outcomes. For example, cultural competency can aid providers in preventing drug interactions by determining which complementary and alternative medicines their patients use, as well as help improve patient adherence to prescribed therapies. This is especially important in minority communities, in which the devastating effects of diabetes, hypertension, and other diseases take a disproportionate toll.

Establishing this insight takes time that busy practitioners don’t always have. Fortunately, providers increasingly rely on capable, cost-effective partners: community health workers (CHWs). CHWs work in a variety of settings, including community-based organizations, AIDS service organizations, hospitals, and clinics. They are often of the same ethnicity as many patients and live in the neighborhood; in many cases, CHWs have already developed trusting relationships with patients and may have a better understanding of the nuances of how they expect or want to be treated. CHWs are also in a position to uncover problems that patients are unwilling to share with their physicians and other health care providers.

The positive effects of CHW involvement as provider extenders are well documented. For example, at the Gateway Community Health Center in Texas, CHWs played a valuable role in improving outcomes among people with hypertension and diabetes.

A critical area that can be enhanced by community health workers is complementary medicine. St. John’s Wort is one example of an herbal folk remedy that is sometimes used and endorsed by generations of family members for the treatment of depression, but that many patients may not report to their health care providers. This is significant because St. John’s Wort should not be taken with antiretrovirals. CHWs may be more effective than those ‘wearing white coats’ in learning about use of complementary and alternative medications and, when needed, explaining the dangers of drug interactions with sensitivity and compassion.

Research continues into the benefits of employing CHWs in pharmacies. Four pharmacy school professors at the University of Florida – Folakemi Odedina, Ph.D.; Richard Segal, Ph.D.; David Angaran, MS, FCCP, FASHP and Shannon Pressey – did a pilot project to see whether a CHW paired with a single community pharmacy could uncover medication-related problems that were missed by the pharmacist alone and improve outcomes in hypertension (view this short video for more information). In an interview with Real World Health Care, Dr. Segal said they teamed a CHW with a pharmacist to work cooperatively for 11 months to enroll 30 patients with poorly controlled hypertension (>140/90 mm Hg). The CHW was able to gather information about which patients were using complementary medicines as well as the barriers people were experiencing that affected their adherence to prescribed medicines. Together, the CHW and pharmacist developed a medication action plan that was informed by the added information the CHW was able to collect from patients. While four patients were lost to follow up, the 26 remaining patients showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure. The pilot program is being scaled up to involve 30 CHWs with funding from the Department of Health and the CDC. Segal concluded that clinical collaboration between pharmacists and CHWs should also be used for other disease areas.

What other ways can community health workers benefit patients in addition to increasing treatment adherence and decreasing the risk of drug interactions? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Five Ways to Manage the Costs of Your Medicine

While a main precept of the Affordable Care Act is to expand access to health care, in some cases that improved access means more patients are being treated with medications that come with a cost. As a pharmacist, I have to be an insurance sleuth, use common sense, and teach my patients the old-fashioned methods of negotiation.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

I work in solid organ transplant, HIV, and Hepatitis C medicine. I have patients on regimes ranging from 4 to over 20 medications. For my patients, obtaining consistent, reasonably-priced medications – both over-the-counter and prescription – is vital.

1. Make sure all the medications are at one pharmacy.  It’s important to keep a clinical eye on things for drug interactions. As a bonus, the pharmacist and the patient know what costs need to be examined.

2. Seek out insurance prior authorization.  Some insurance companies require prior authorization to cover certain drugs. Your pharmacist can help you seek prior authorization for medications that require it using software that creates forms specific to each insurance company. Ask if your pharmacist can fill out the form as much as possible before sending it to your doctor.

3. Contact the drug company.  Many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs or co-pay assistance cards to help eligible patients obtain free medicines, particularly for biologics and expensive drugs. These programs are especially helpful for patients who have insurance gaps and need the medications quickly. Depending on the assistance from a case manager or care coordinator, I have received authorization for medications right away or within 72 hours.

4. Search for a co-pay assistance program that covers your condition.  If your drug company does not offer a patient assistance program or you are not eligible based on your income and insurance coverage, it is possible that a charitable patient assistance program through a non-profit organization such as the HealthWell Foundation may be able to help you.

5. Seek discounts for over-the-counter medications.  Over-the-counter medications can put a strain on the wallet. In many cases, purchasing over-the-counter medications is more expensive than prescription medications covered by insurance. Other items like vitamins, natural supplements, and enteral formulas (also known as ‘milks’) require the patient to do a little negotiating. If you tell the pharmacy or vitamin store you will be taking these items indefinitely, they may be inclined to discount. Also, be on the lookout for buy one get one deals (BOGOs). Finally, enteral formulas can be quite expensive, so if you get prescribed a specially formulated one, ask if you can take a more basic formulation instead. Remember to let your prescriber and pharmacist know which over-the-counter medications and supplements you are using.

In conclusion, while the path to affordable medications is not always easy, there are individuals, programs, and strategies that can help you meet your health care goals.

How do you manage your medications? Share your tips in the comments section.

Categories: General

A Shot of Courage for Those Who Fear Needles

This is the first of a two-part series on what’s working to prevent and address needle fear.

Most people don’t enjoy shots.

But for those with needle phobia, the fear of shots can be so severe that they actively avoid medical procedures involving injections, and in extreme cases avoid medical care more generally.

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

Needle phobia can arise from genetic and environmental factors, including experiencing pain during encounters with needles or seeing others uncomfortable or distressed by needles. Studies show that approximately two out of three children and one in four adults are afraid of needles, and 10 percent of adults have an outright needle phobia, characterized by avoidance behavior and physiological responses, such as increased heart rate or fainting.

The miracle of modern medicine has enabled us to protect ourselves from a range of dangerous or life-threatening diseases. In one recent study, seven to eight percent of adults and children reported avoiding potentially life-saving immunizations as a result of needle fear. Given the growth of vaccine-preventable outbreaks throughout the world (check out this interactive map), this is not only a concern for individual health but also for public health.

Preventing and Addressing Needle Fear

Fortunately, a growing cadre of empathetic health professionals is taking the prevention of needle pain, which can trigger needle fear, to the next level.

“In order to combat pain, vascular access professionals across the country are looking at creative ways to address patient pain and patients’ perception of pain,” said nursing leader and vascular access expert Lorelle Wuerz, MSN, BS, BA, RN, VA-BC. “Offering the patient options before you do any procedure is important.”

Wuerz said that she uses a variety of interventions to combat needle fear and pain in patients, including:

  • Ensuring patients know what to expect;
  • Deep breathing;
  • Guided imagery;
  • Distraction techniques;
  • Topical agents;
  • Warm compresses;
  • Involvement of child life professionals;
  • Pain control devices, such as Buzzy®;
  • Aromatherapy (“Anecdotally, this is something patients find soothing and calming during an uneasy time,” Wuerz said.).

Needle pain prevention extends beyond traditional health care settings. For instance, after discovering that 23 percent of Americans who skipped flu vaccination did so to avoid needles, Target Pharmacy began offering micro-needle flu vaccines. The needles are 90% smaller than those that have traditionally been used and reportedly result in less muscle ache and pain immediately following injection.

“Treating needle pain reduces pain and distress and improves satisfaction with medical care,” wrote pain researcher Anna Taddio in a chapter on needle procedures in the Oxford Textbook of Paediatric Pain. “Other potential benefits include a reduction in the development of needle fear and subsequent health care avoidance behaviour.” 

The 4 Ps of Needle Pain Management

In the Oxford Textbook chapter, Taddio outlined the four domains of interventions that can reduce needle pain for patients, known as the 4 Ps: procedural, pharmacological, psychological, and physical.

Procedural interventions involve bypassing needles altogether through the use of needle-free immunization or non-invasive sampling devices. Pharmacological interventions include local anesthetics, which have been shown to be effective and safe for reducing pain from common needle procedures, and sweet solutions for infants up to 12 months, which have been shown to reduce needle pain behaviors. Psychological interventions include coaching people to cope and providing distractions. Physical interventions – such as upright body positioning, tactile stimulation, and use of cooling agents or ice – can also reduce the perception of needle pain.

Empowering Ourselves

Many people will celebrate the day when shots are replaced with futuristic technology, such as a robotic pill or one of many other innovations currently in development.

In the meantime, what can patients do to help themselves? “A patient should never not speak up,” Wuerz said. “It’s okay to have all of the information before you make a choice.”

Stay tuned for Part II of the series, in which Dr. Amy Baxter, MD – pain researcher, CEO of MMJ Labs, and inventor of Buzzy® Drug Free Pain Relief – will outline how you can protect yourself and your family from needle pain. Dr. Baxter will appear on ABC’s Shark Tank Friday, February 28 at 9:00 pm EST.

How do you respond to needles? What works for you? Have you had a good experience with a health care professional? Post your experiences to the comments section.

Three Ways You Can Reduce the Impact of Cardiovascular Disease this American Heart Month

Most of the readers of this blog know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of men and women in this country. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, CVD is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests cause the deaths of an estimated 250,000 Americans each year. CVD costs the United States over $300 billion each year.

Joel Zive

Joel Zive

There are many small but significant actions we can take. Here is what you can do to make a difference: empower or continue to empower patients to take care of themselves.

1. Address the cost of heart medication

If the cost of your medicine is an issue, talk to your doctor or contact a patient assistance program that may be able to help with prescription co-pays.

2. Encourage healthy behaviors

Want people to eat better? Give them coupons for healthy food. Exercise? Give them coupons for short-term memberships to health clubs.

The stakes are higher in our country’s current health care landscape. With more people on health insurance than ever before, we need to do everything we can to empower people to seek help before an emergency and talk to their doctor about what they can do to take better care of themselves. This will have a direct effect on deaths from heart disease.

3. Ask your employer about Automatic External Defibrillators

There are instances in which individuals are dealt devastating genetic hands of cards. Recently, the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the plight of a Philadelphia family that had a genetic link to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.

For those who do experience heart issues, or even have a major event such as cardiac arrest, Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) devices can significantly increase the likelihood of survival. AEDs have been available for over 20 years, but in recent years, device makers have reduced the size and cost and increased usability of defibrillators, making public access defibrillation viable. “We believe ease of use is one of the most important qualities in an AED because the potential user may not be well-trained in resuscitating a victim of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Bob Peterhans, General Manager for Emergency Care and Resuscitation at Philips Healthcare. “This is consistent with the American Heart Association’s criteria for choosing an AED.”

While risk factors for CVD are often genetic, the majority of CVD is triggered by factors that are controllable: smoking, diet, and exercise. And this is where individual efforts need to be focused.

For more information on preventing CVD, check out the American Heart Association’s guidelines for taking care of your heart, which are broken down by age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offer an American Heart Month guide to controlling risk factors for cardiovascular disease. You may also want to check out The Heart Truth, a campaign from the National Institutes of Health to make women more aware of the danger of heart disease.

Read more Real World Health Care heart health-related posts:

Are you taking steps to prevent cardiovascular disease? If you, a family member, or a friend has CVD, what is working for treatment? Share your experiences and insights in the comments section.

Smoking Out Nicotine Addiction: What’s Working in the War on Cigarettes

With CVS Pharmacy’s recent announcement that cigarettes and other tobacco containing products will no longer be sold in its stores, Real World Health Care has been crunching the numbers on the success of anti-tobacco efforts and reviewing recent advances in smoking cessation. Here’s what we’ve found:

  • #1. Smoking still holds the unfortunate distinction of causing more preventable deaths than anything else.
  • 8 million. That’s how many lives have been saved by 50 years of anti-smoking efforts, according to a recent study by researchers from Yale University.

    Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

    Jamie Elizabeth Rosen

  • 19%. That’s the current smoking rate in the U.S., down from a whopping 42% five decades ago when U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry published the first report on the negative health impacts of smoking.
  • 3,000. The number of young people who still try their first cigarette every day. Almost 700 become regular smokers.
  • 7,600. The number of store locations that will no longer sell tobacco products as a result of CVS’s decision. Under the Tobacco Control Act, the Food and Drug Administration cannot mandate what retailers sell, although interestingly it does have the power to mandate the amount of nicotine in cigarettes in addition to advertising restrictions and general standards for tobacco production

Public consciousness, regulation, and education on the harmful effects of tobacco are all factors in the tremendous progress that has been made in saving lives. The World Health Organization’s global recommendations for tobacco control are known as the MPOWER measures and include the following:

WHO_MPOWER

With the efforts of both public and private sector actors, 2014 could be a watershed year for tobacco control in the U.S. In addition to CVS’s tobacco ban, several new initiatives on the part of the government and private industry have already been announced this year that address components of MPOWER:

  • Earlier this month, the FDA launched a new media campaign targeting youth. “We are addressing one of the biggest public health problems in this country and in the world,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said. “It’s something the FDA has not really done before in terms of a broad public health campaign of this magnitude but it’s something that we are so pleased to be doing because it matters for health.”
  • Walgreens and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare announced a smoking cessation initiative. Along with resources to help quit smoking, Walgreens’ new Sponsorship to Quit provides smokers with 24/7 tips and tools, celebrations for milestones, a free consultation and other valuable support systems for smokers in their journey to quit. MinuteClinic also provides online tips, tools and facts to help smokers kick their habits.

Have you or anyone you know succeeded in quitting smoking cigarettes or using other tobacco products? Have you seen an effective campaign against tobacco? Post to the comments section to share your impressions of what works.

Why Revenue Matters to Patient Care

What approaches can pharmacists embrace to more effectively adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of U.S. health care? It’s exactly this question that Philip E. Johnson, RPh, FASHP, the oncology director for Premier, Inc, a health care improvement company, explores in the December edition of Pharmacy Practice News:

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

“Protecting oncology drug–related revenue is a good place to start, given the huge dollar figures involved and the ease with which that revenue can slip from an institution’s grasp, said Mr. Johnson, who was previously the director of pharmacy at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. ‘Revenue is not a four-letter word. It’s important. If the doors close, we’re not providing care to anybody.'”

Click here to read the full article (“Reimbursement and Revenue Integrity”) by Susan Birk and see what tips Mr. Johnson offers to help pharmacists improve efficiencies and communicate their message to leaders, stakeholders and payers alike.

Personal Connections with Pharmacists Drive Medication Adherence Outcomes

With nearly half of all patients in the US not taking their medications as prescribed, medication non-adherence remains a dangerous and expensive problem that costs the health care system $329 billion annually (Express Scripts Drug Trend Report), meaning more hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room (ER).

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

So what’s the good news? Effective, comprehensive solutions are emerging to reverse this trend by involving the pharmacist to improve medication adherence rates through a personal connection with patients.

Recent stories underscore how pharmacists are uniquely positioned to engage patients in conversations that help them understand why treatments are prescribed and why meds should be taken as directed.

A report released on June 25 by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), for example, illustrates how interpersonal relationships between pharmacists and patients boost adherence. Authors of the report found that a patient’s sense of connectedness with one’s pharmacist or pharmacy staff was the survey’s “single strongest individual predictor of medication adherence.”

“Pharmacists can help patients and caregivers overcome barriers to effectively and consistently follow medication regimens,” NCPA CEO B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, MBA, said in a statement. “Indeed, independent community pharmacists in particular may be well-suited to boost patient adherence given their close connection with patients and their caregivers.”

According to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), one effective method pharmacists can use to improve adherence is medication therapy management (MTM) services for patients taking more than one drug for multiple chronic medical conditions. In addition to therapy reviews, pharmacotherapy consults, anticoagulation management, immunizations, health and wellness programs and other clinical services, MTM involves the following elements:

  • Comprehensive medication review, including a personal medication report that lists all the medications the patient is taking.
  • Medication action plan.
  • Education and counseling or other resources to enhance understanding about using the medication and to improve adherence.
  • Coordination of care, including documenting MTM services, providing the documentation to other providers, and referring patients to other providers as needed.

Pharmacists can also leverage a variety of practical tips to help patients improve adherence that include:

  • Discussing the appropriateness of each medication and its impact on their multiple medical conditions.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness and safety of each medication.
  • Assessing whether some medications may be unnecessary and should be discontinued.
  • Discussing the need to change medications or doses if problems arise.

The implications of improved adherence will help lower the cost of treating chronic conditions, decrease hospitalizations, reduce ER visits and by extension lower the risk of treatment failures, serious adverse reactions and deaths too.

“Studies have repeatedly recorded the cost-saving effect of MTM,” said Kevin Schweers, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, NCPA. “One Minnesota study found a 12:1 return-on-investment for MTM.  In North Carolina, Kerr Drug reports that MTM programs for seniors produced a 13:1 return. Improved adherence would likely help reduce hospitalizations as well. So many prescription drugs are intended to treat chronic conditions, such as heart disease, that can result in hospitalization. In addition, hospital re-admissions can result from the failure to stick to a prescribed medication regimen.”

Joel Zive, adjunct clinical faculty, University of Florida College of Pharmacy, underscored the need for patients to cultivate relationships with their pharmacists.

“While MTM services are quite important in helping adherence, getting to know your pharmacist’s name is helpful in establishing a relationship with your pharmacist,” he said. “Pharmacists are trained to pick up clinical clues from patients.  This is why if you are having unusual reactions medications, speaking to your pharmacist is an option.”

Although MTM services are an effective way to increase adherence, greater participation among patients and pharmacists is needed according to the APhA and the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE).

In addition to leveraging tips and strategies to boost adherence, pharmacists can also draw on a number of resources for patients, referring them to the NCPIE wallet card and to a brochure made available by NCPIE and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), “Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe.”

What else can pharmacists do to engage patients? How can stakeholders in health care, government, academia and the private sector collaborate to improve dialogue among pharmacists and patients around strategies that increase adherence?

More Patients DASH to New Solution to Reduce High Blood Pressure: Part I

Shawn_J_Green

Shawn J. Green

What’s the solution to reversing the tide of hypertension, the most commonly diagnosed condition in the United States?  More evidence indicates that the answer begins with the food choices we make every day.

An underlying cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease, one in three American adults now experiences high blood pressure – the single-largest contributor to death worldwide. It is also becoming more resistant to the pharmaceutical drugs used to lower it. In fact, blood pressure remains elevated in nearly one-third of all treated hypertensive patients on pharmaceutical drugs.

Instead of relying on prescriptions, more patients are turning to a healthier eating approach: Keeping sodium intake low and making consumption of nitric oxide-rich vegetables and leafy greens high. This cardio-protective daily diet, known as the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan, is emerging as an effective way to delay or prevent high blood pressure altogether.

The value of nitric oxide was spotlighted when the Nobel Prize was awarded in 1998 for discovery of this naturally produced cardio-protective factor. A string of clinical studies underscored that vegetables (like red beet roots) and leafy greens (such as spinach and arugula) are replete with nitric oxide.

Diets known for promoting heart health and lowering rates of diabetes and obesity – like Japanese diets, Mediterranean diets and plant-based diets, such as DASH, among others including TLC, Ornish, and Pritikin – incorporate these natural whole foods. The need to consume more nitric oxide-potent vegetables and leafy greens becomes even more critical as we age because our bodies are less able to synthesize this natural hypertensive-fighting factor.

Reducing hypertension would not only improve health outcomes for individual patients, but would also benefit the health system as a whole. Although the percentage of resistance to antihypertensive drugs is relatively lower in the U.S., elevated blood pressure among a rapidly growing number of baby boomers will mean more challenges for health care in the long run unless we identify tools that work and make them as accessible and user-friendly to the public as possible.

DASH holds great promise to fuel compliance – a critical driver to prevent elevated blood pressure – among those living with hypertension. But a healthful eating strategy alone will not mean better outcomes for patients without a model to help them break bad habits and support dietary changes on a personal level, one day at a time.

So how do we get there?

Join us here next Thursday for the second post in our two-part series. Discover what innovative tools can empower patients to make the DASH Diet a part of their arsenal in the fight against hypertension.

Real-Time Health Alerts Join Twitter to Expand Access to Public Health Information

Is Twitter now monitoring your allergies or sleeping patterns?

Linda Barlow

Linda Barlow

In today’s era of real-time information, Twitter has emerged as a leading go-to source for the latest in news, entertainment and more. Now, Twitter is joining Everyday Health, Inc. to create HealthBeat, the first global real-time health alert and news offering. The partnership seeks to provide relevant health information and breaking news to the Twitter community in real time, offering promoted Tweets linking to Everyday Health’s news, expert advice, videos and tools that users can put into action.

HealthBeat will scour the 2 million daily health-related tweets in the U.S. to identify impending outbreaks and other health crises.

“We’ll be looking at the key health terms flaring up every day, and when something is indexing in an abnormal way, we’ll let Twitter know and we’ll supply content about what to do,” said Everyday Health President Michael Keriakos, in an interview published in Ad Age.

For example, Keriakos noted that HealthBeat could have been used to provide vaccination information to residents affected by a whooping cough outbreak in South Central Los Angeles two years ago.

Not only will the partnership provide important information relating to public health, it will also serve as a targeting mechanism for advertisers who are being sought by HealthBeat to promote content around broad health topics like allergies, flu season and insomnia.

While HealthBeat touts itself as the “first global real-time health alert” service, there are other online services – like Google’s flu tracker — that provide similar information on a regional or national level:

  • Launched in 2010, Health & Safety Watch is a Canadian-based web portal and iPhone app that lets users customize the type of alerts they want to see. It also indicates when an advisory or warning is over, for example, when a local water quality issue has been resolved.
  • In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides alerts about health issues travelers may face when going abroad as well as alerts about disease outbreaks at home.
  • Also in the U.S., a service called HealthMap, developed out of Boston Children’s Hospital, offers an online portal called The Disease Daily, and a mobile app called Outbreaks Near Me.

“The sooner we get a signal of an infectious disease outbreak, the sooner we can devise an appropriate response, and hopefully, the negative impacts can be mitigated,” explained Anna Tomasulo, MA, MPH, HealthMap Program Coordinator, Boston Children’s Hospital.

According to Tomasulo, HealthMap has other tools that help prevent health problems.

“Our Vaccine Finder takes a person’s zip code and provides information on where they can access vaccines nearby,” she says, noting that the project started with flu vaccines but has since been expanded to other vaccines including human papillomavirus (HPV), measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Varicella and more. “A questionnaire helps users determine what vaccine is most appropriate and provides a list of participating pharmacies within a given radius that provides the vaccine the user needs. Such vaccines help prevent costs associated with illness and potential hospital stays.”

So are HealthBeat, HealthMap and other real-time alert programs providing an important public health service? Are these alerts helpful or will they cause undue concern?

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.

MedicineCabinet (5)

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?

MedicineCabinet2 (2)

Categories: Access to Care