Conference Coverage

‘Motivational pharmacotherapy’ engages Latino patients with depression



– Approaching treatment as a partnership between clinician and patient can help improve adherence in underserved members of racial/ethnic groups with depression, according to an expert.

“There is plenty of evidence that clinicians are less likely to engage minorities in a participatory way,” Roberto Lewis-Fernández, MD, said during a plenary session at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology, formerly the New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit meeting. “They tend to ask fewer questions [of patients]. They tend to engage [patients] less in clinical decision making.”

This can lead to nonadherence or even discontinuation of therapy, said Dr. Lewis-Fernández, director of the New York State (NYS) Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence, as well as the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and the Hispanic Treatment Program at NYS Psychiatric Institute.

Dr. Roberto Lewis-Fernandez, director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence, and the Anxiety Disorders Clinic and the Hispanic Treatment Program at NYS Psychiatric Institute

Dr. Roberto Lewis-Fernandez

He said treatment nonadherence is common across all demographics, but it tends to be more common among underserved members of racial/ethnic groups – including Latinos and African Americans.

One solution for bridging what Dr. Lewis-Fernández calls the “power differential” between therapist and patient, and improving adherence rates, is to use “motivational pharmacotherapy,” a derivative of motivational interviewing, created by Dr. Lewis-Fernández and his colleagues. With motivational pharmacotherapy, patients are viewed as the experts in their challenges when meeting the needs of their treatment plan. The clinician is the expert partner in the technical aspects of care.

In a 12-week, open-trial pilot study for this intervention in 50 first-generation Latino patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder, Dr. Lewis-Fernández and his colleagues found that 20% of patients discontinued treatment, with a mean therapy duration of 74.2 out of 84 days (Psychiatry. 2013 Fall;76[3]:210-22).This was in comparison to reports in the literature of discontinuation rates among Latino patients ranging from 32% to 53%, and to rates between 36% and 46% in previous studies conducted at Dr. Lewis-Fernández’s own clinic, using similar medications and methods.

They also found that responder and remitter rates were 82% and 68%. The average length of the first clinical visit was 36.7 minutes, and 24.3 minutes for subsequent visits, which Dr. Lewis-Fernández said was compatible with community clinics.

Motivational pharmacotherapy relies on the psychotherapy components of motivational interviewing that address the need for behavioral change and for helping patients reduce their ambivalence about taking antidepressants. Those components are combined with manualized pharmacotherapy, said Dr. Lewis-Fernández, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, New York.

The language and tone of this kind of intervention must be empathetic and nonconfrontational, he said. “You can’t say to people who are ambivalent, ‘No, you’re wrong. Take your medication.’ Instead, [focus on] the discrepancy between the current situation and the desired state. Then medication can serve as the solution.”

This allows the patient to “roll with their resistance,” he said, rather than meet it head on. In turn, this approach emphasizes the patient’s capacity to advocate for himself or herself.

“You can’t do the treatment without the patient,” Dr. Lewis-Fernández said. “It’s essentially psychoeducation.”

Among some of the tips for conducting this intervention cited by Dr. Lewis-Fernández:

  • Ask questions to elicit the patients’ cultural understanding about their illness and what troubles them most about their condition.
  • Ask patients’ permission to show them the supportive data for the intervention.
  • Ask them about their thoughts and feelings in response to learning the data.
  • Use their understanding of the pros and cons of the medication to “negotiate” their engagement.

In previous studies, Dr. Lewis-Fernández said, he and his colleagues analyzed the reasons for nonadherence, which he said often were tied to the “chaos of their lives.” However, he said, there were improvements after the patients engaged in this psychoeducation-enriched intervention.

Not blaming minority patients for poor adherence is important, he said, since their ambivalence takes place in the context of having less access to quality care. Among the many obstacles these patients face in getting the care they need, insufficient clinician training in how to engage them should not have to be one of them, Dr. Lewis-Fernández said. “We should be doing something about this as a profession.”

Dr. Lewis-Fernández said he had no relevant disclosures. The study on motivational pharmacotherapy was sponsored by Pfizer and the National Institute of Mental Health.

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