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No Single Intervention Can Cure Poor Medication Adherence

Jessie GrumanYou are sick with something-or-other and your doctor writes you a prescription for a medication.  She briefly tells you what it’s for and how to take it.  You go to the pharmacy, pick up the medication, go home and follow the instructions, right?  I mean, how hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it appears.  Between 20 percent to 80 percent of us – differing by disease and drug – don’t seem to be able to do it.

There are, of course, many reasons we aren’t.  Drugs are sometimes too pricey, so we don’t fill the prescription. Or we buy them and then apply our ingenuity to making them last longer by splitting pills and otherwise experimenting with the dosage.

Some drugs have to be taken at specific times or under specific conditions, posing little challenge when you are taking only one.  But it can be devilishly difficult to coordinate the green pill half an hour before breakfast, the yellow ones on an empty stomach four times a day and the orange one with a snack between meals.  It’s complicated; we don’t understand.  We’re busy; we forget. We’re sick; it’s confusing.

Some drugs produce uncomfortable side effects while others set off an allergic reaction. Every single day, we have to decide if the promised outcomes are worth the discomfort.

Kate Lorig, the developer of the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, has listened to thousands of people talk about the challenges they face in taking their medications as prescribed.  “One of the reasons that folks do not take their meds is that they think they are not doing anything,” Lorig says. “This is especially true of medications that replace something that you no longer produce like thyroxin or medications for chronic conditions that help you get worse more slowly.   The trajectory of a disease is not something one can usually sense, and people start feeling that their drugs are not making them better. Another problem is that people expect drugs to work at once like aspirin and antibiotics.   Many drugs take days, weeks or even months for people to feel better.  They lose patience.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Think Zinc For A Cold? Not Me

Media channels are a-twitter with the news that zinc can beat the common cold. CBS News, the LA Times, the Huffington Post, and hundreds of others are treating a quiet research report as big news that will have a life-changing effect. After reading the report and doing a little digging into the dark side of zinc, I’m not rushing out to stock up on zinc lozenges or syrup.

The latest hubbub about zinc was sparked by a report from the Cochrane Collaboration. This global network of scientists, patients, and others evaluates the evidence on hundreds of different treatments. In the latest review, on zinc for the common cold, researchers Meenu Singh and Rashmi R. Das pooled the results of 13 studies that tested zinc for treating colds. By their analysis, taking zinc within 24 hours of first noticing the signs of a cold could shorten the cold by one day. They also found that taking zinc made colds a bit less severe.

Sounds good so far. But instead of saying, “Hey, take zinc if you have a cold,” the researchers concluded like this:

“People taking zinc lozenges (not syrup or tablet form) are more likely to experience adverse events, including bad taste and nausea. As there are no studies in participants in whom common cold symptoms might be troublesome (for example, those with underlying chronic illness, immunodeficiency, asthma, etc.), the use of zinc currently cannot be recommended for them. Given the variability in the populations studied (no studies from low- or middle-income countries), dose, formulation and duration of zinc used in the included studies, more research is needed to address these variabilities and determine the optimal duration of treatment as well as the dosage and formulations of zinc that will produce clinical benefits without increasing adverse effects [bold is mine], before making a general recommendation for zinc in treatment of the common cold.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

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