Conference Coverage

To help patients stay on diabetes regimens: Communicate, educate, and use technology



– Are you having trouble helping patients take their diabetes medications as directed? Try installing 32-inch screens in the examination rooms for a lab result show-and-tell. Keep pharmaceutical marketers out of your hair (and office). Talk about smartphone alarms, promote auto-fill services, and understand why patients don’t adhere to their regimens.

Those are among the suggestions offered by two physicians during a symposium on drug adherence at the annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association.

“Nonadherence is not a case of patients being bad,” said internist and researcher Niteesh K. Choudhry, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston. “When half of your patients are nonadherent, I can guarantee you [they] aren’t trying to hurt themselves.”

According to Dr. Choudhry’s own research published in 2011 and based on 2008 data, about 25% of patients do not fill prescriptions after leaving their doctors’ offices. That level for diabetes medications – 42% of patients – is especially high (Am J Med. 2011;124[11]:1081.e9-22).

Other findings, he said, have suggested that half of patients fail to adhere to evidence-based prescribed regimens over the long term. And three groups have especially low levels of adherence: people of color, women, and patients who are caregivers (possibly because they are too busy caring for others to care for themselves).

Various factors affect adherence, including forgetfulness, drug interactions or side effects, and the different colors and shapes of pills. The latter can confuse patients because colors and shapes may be different from prescription to prescription even for the same medication, he said.

Dr. Choudhry added that there’s another factor: multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians that require multiple pharmacy visits. His findings suggest that adherence improves when prescriptions are consolidated to limit the need to visit the drugstore. “The chaos of our health care system leads to nonadherence,” he said (Arch Intern Med. 2011;171[9]:814-22).

Dr. Lawrence Garber, Reliant Medical Group, Worcester, Mass.

Dr. Lawrence Garber

Internist Lawrence Garber, MD, of Reliant Medical Group in Worcester, Mass., offered these tips about boosting drug adherence:

  • Develop trust with patients. “They need to trust that I’m their advocate, and that they’re my No. 1 reason for prescribing the medication, and not making myself more money,” he said.
  • Provide educational resources. “We give them resources online. If their EHR [electronic health record] identifies that they’re diabetic, then they get information about diabetes printed out.”
  • Use technology to promote messages about diabetes. Dr. Garber said his clinic has installed screens in the examination rooms so that he can show patients their data. “It [makes it] very clear for them to see why what they’re doing now is not working,’’ and why there is a need to change to a different regimen. In addition, screens in the waiting room can display educational slides about diabetes.
  • Set up clinic-wide medication protocols. “We’ve set up protocols and pathways for diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol to make it easy to prescribe medications that are lower cost and to make sure we’re following the same path,” Dr. Garber said.
  • Stay independent. “I haven’t seen a drug rep in decades. It’s an organizational policy that we don’t see them, so we’re less likely to be biased.”
  • Make it easier for patients to take medications. Dr. Garber urged colleagues to talk to their patients about using strategies such as printed pill schedules, weekly pill organizers, auto refills, and smartphone alarm reminders to facilitate adherence.

And, he said, you may wish to make it clear that you will check on whether prescriptions are filled. That way, “the patients know that you’re looking,” and it can actually lead to improved adherence.

Dr. Choudhry reported that his research has been funded by unrestricted grants to his institution from insurers, government funders, nonprofit foundations, pharmaceutical companies (including Merck, Sanofi, and Astra Zeneca), and device makers (including Medisafe). Dr. Garber reported no relevant disclosures.

Next Article: