Getting patients to swallow their medicine

BOSTON--In a study designed to assess whether alerts faxed to physicians can help to improve patient adherence to antidepressant medications, Kara Zivin Bambauer, PhD, research fellow in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention (of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care) and colleagues have concluded that fax interventions to prescribers did not positively affect rates of patient adherence. The results are reported in the March 13 Archives of Internal Medicine.

Depression is a major source of illness, lost productivity, and health care expenditures. Antidepressants are most effective in reducing depression symptoms, relapse, and recurrence when taken in accordance with treatment guidelines. Yet many patients do not continue taking medication for the recommended minimum six-month regimen. Using real-time pharmacy information to alert physicians regarding patient non-adherence to antidepressants, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a non-profit health plan with more than 925,000 members, began its antidepressant compliance program in an attempt to further improve already strong patient adherence through implementation of a simple, low-cost strategy.

"Our findings confirm that patient-specific alerts using faxes to physicians are not effective at improving patient adherence to antidepressant therapy in the absence of other complementary, coordinated interventions," said Bambauer.

Bambauer and colleagues assessed the pharmacy records of more than 13,000 patients who were starting treatment with antidepressants. They found that faxed alerts to prescribers when patients stopped taking their medications earlier than recommended did not increase antidepressant adherence rates. While this particular strategy did not produce the results desired, Harvard Pilgrim continues to implement programs to increase health care quality while lowering health care costs and continues its commitment to sharing best practices with the medical communit

Contact: Leah Gourley
Harvard Medical School

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