Conference Coverage

Will paying patients to take oral antipsychotics boost adherence?



– Paying patients with schizophrenia a modest sum to take their long-acting injectable antipsychotic agents is a proven, evidence-based strategy for achieving improved adherence. Now it’s time to find out whether the same approach will work in patients on oral antipsychotics, Daniel Guinart, MD, said at the annual congress of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Dr. Daniel Guinart, a psychiatrist at the Zucker School of Medicine at Northwell/Hoffstra

Dr. Daniel Guinart

He presented a systematic literature review that turned up four studies, including two randomized clinical trials, of economic incentives aimed at improving adherence to long-acting injectable antipsychotics. The studies, all positive, showed that small financial incentives improved adherence by 12%-15%. However, once the intervention ended, adherence drifted back downward, so the financial reinforcement needs to be ongoing.

This approach has not previously been tested in outpatients with severe mental illness who are on oral antipsychotics because of the intrinsic limitations of reliance upon patient self-reported adherence. But Dr. Guinart and his coinvestigator, John M. Kane, MD, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., have launched a 25-patient proof-of-concept study using technology to measure outpatient adherence. Provided that the pilot study shows this approach is feasible, the plan is to conduct a larger, longer-term, randomized controlled trial, said Dr. Guinart, also at Hofstra University.

If the modest financial expenditures involved in payment for pill taking do indeed prove to improve outpatient adherence to oral antipsychotics, it could reap major dividends in terms of fewer relapses, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, suicide attempts, and legal problems for patients, he noted.

The financial incentive to take oral antipsychotics needs to be big enough to promote behavioral change, but not so large that it poses ethical issues or encourages patients to game the system by lowering their adherence in order to gain entrance into the program. Fortunately, prior studies of successful behavioral incentives to take antihypertensive medications and other oral nonpsychotrophic drugs provide guidance on this score.

“One to two dollars per day is considered a reasonable incentive because it generates behavioral change, yet $30 per month doesn’t really serve as a financial aid,” the psychiatrist explained in an interview.

In the pilot study, adherence to oral antipsychotics is being assessed by having patients snap a cell phone photo of their daily medications being held in hand. Proprietary software analyzes whether those are the correct pills as prescribed. If so, the patient gets rewarded.

“It’s possible that after taking the photo some patients may throw the pills away. In adherence studies, we’re not the police, so at some point we have to trust that the patient is taking the medication,” he said.

Dr. Guinart reported having no financial conflicts of interest regarding his presentation.

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