We've all heard stories about patients who took suppositories by mouth instead of the way they were intended.
Since doctors get blamed for just about everything, some would say that patients who take suppositories by mouth or eat an orange filled with insulin do so because they were not properly taught by their doctors (or nurses).
I have blogged before about the problem of who is at fault if patients do not follow up. Although I feel that much of the time it's the patient who decides not to return for follow-up, it seems prevailing sentiment and possibly even the courts say it's the physician who should be held responsible.
But how do you explain this? A study in Heart, a BMJ journal, found that of 208 hypertensive patients referred to a clinic for suboptimal blood pressure control, 52 (25%) were either completely or partially non-adherent [aka non-compliant] with their antihypertensive medications as determined by urine mass spectrometry.
The authors concluded that urine testing for medications or their metabolites would help doctors avoid ordering unnecessary investigations for patients whose blood pressures were not well-controlled.
The reasons for patient non-adherence were not mentioned. Could all 52 patients not have been told about the importance of taking their medications? I doubt it.
You might think the 15% who were partially non-adherent may have forgotten to take the drugs occasionally, but it turns out that most of those in this group took adequate doses of most of other their prescribed medications. This suggests that they selectively omitted some doses of one or more drugs.
The only explanation I can fathom for the 10% who had no traces of any BP meds in their urine is that they just said "to hell with it" and didn't take their meds at all.
I know someone with type 2 diabetes who doesn't watch her weight or what she eats and doesn't check her blood sugars. She says, "You've got to die of something. I'd rather live my life the way I want to."
Is it that doctors and nurses aren't educating the patients or are the patients at fault?
The answer to this question has important implications because of the newly established financial penalties for hospitals with high readmission rates.
Older methods that may improve adherence are tracking prescription refills and having pharmacists or nurses specifically assigned to explain medications to patients in detail.
Here's something that might help.
A recent meta-analysis showed that adherence to HIV/AIDS antiretroviral therapy was modestly improved when patients were sent reminders to take their medications by text message. Those who were more adherent had lower viral loads and better CD4 counts.
Of course, such an intervention assumes that patients have mobile phones or pagers capable of receiving texts, will check for messages, and will act upon the advice. Compared to patients with HIV/AIDS, those with hypertension might tend to be much older and possibly not as technologically savvy.
So what is the solution? I don't know, but sometimes the problem is the patients.