By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger
One of the biggest concerns for healthcare providers when treating a patient for any disease is regimen adherence – whether or not a patient will properly adhere to a prescribed treatment or therapy. For example, one of the most common problems with the prescription of antibiotics to treat infections is patients who abandon the regimen once they begin to “feel” better, regardless of whether or not the entire prescribed amount has been taken. Early abandonment of drugs meant to treat conditions can lead to the bacterium or virus mutating to form a resistance to the drug, making resurgences more difficult to treat. When it comes to treating chronic diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV), these concerns are especially important, as treating resistant strains of these viruses can be incredibly frustrating, and may leave patients with few good options, drugs with more negative side effects, and costlier therapies than those used with patients whose strains have fewer drug resistances.
The reality, however, is that there are some patients who simply are not likely to adhere to medication regimens; people for whom, for whatever reason, being compliant and doing things on a consistent basis is simply not in their skillset. My maternal grandparents exhibited this kind of reluctance to scheduled medication times. Regardless of how many day/night, week/month, or even time-released pill dispensers I gave them, they were simply unable to perform the appropriate task at the appropriate time, and often ended up taking double or triple doses of certain medications, until they were receiving truly dangerous levels of prescription medications. It took my mother and I essentially taking over my grandfather’s medications and wresting control from my grandmother to ensure that he was getting the right pills at the right time, when he was in his final months.
But, is there a better way to ensure regimen adherence without essentially doing it for a patient? Clinical specialty pharmacists and nurses at Johns Hopkins Medicine have demonstrated that there may be. They use a triage method to boost adherence rates, as well as the odds of successful outcomes, particularly for HCV, called the “stoplight protocol.” Before any costly specialty drug is ordered, patients presenting to the specialty clinic with newly diagnosed HCV infection are evaluated using a standardized screening tool and tagged with a stoplight color – green, yellow, or red – that indicates how well they understand the medication’s benefits and side effects, as well as how likely they are to stick to the regimen throughout the entirely of the treatment.
The patients’ designation also dictates the programmatic monitoring of HCV patients and how frequently the receiving nursing or pharmacist follow-up. Patients in the red zone for whom treatment is deemed appropriate may be monitored weekly, via either clinic visits or by telephone, while patients in the green zone are monitored far less frequently. This tight monitoring of patients’ regimen adherence has led to a therapy abandonment rate of just 4.2% for their HCV patient population, a rate comparable to the 1% – 4.5% discontinuation rate reported for patients in closely monitored HCV drug trials. In contrast, a 2014 “real-world analysis” conducted by the CVS Health Research Institute showed an overall abandonment rate of 8.1% for patients who were taking Sovaldi.
This type of approach looks to be a winning formula in a healthcare arena where specialty drugs to treat HCV run from $54k to $94k, before pricing agreements and rebates, and may be a key component in the treatment cascade that convinces state, federal, and private payers to lessen the often stringent pre-requisites for receiving treatment, especially if the favorable rates of abandonment reported by Johns Hopkins can be replicated at the state level. Perhaps the greatest struggle payers face is determining whether or not spending so much money on a potentially unreliable patient will be worth their investment, and as harsh as that sounds, when each prescription fill costs tens-of-thousands of dollars, it’s a determination that must be looked at for the continued solvency of pharmacy budgets.
Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.
- Buckley, B. (2016, October 19). Johns Hopkins Takes a Special(ty) Approach to HCV. New York, NY: McMahon Publishing: Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News. Retrieved from: http://www.gastroendonews.com/In-the-News/Article/10-16/Johns-Hopkins-Takes-a-Special-ty-Approach-to-HCV/38105
- CVS Health. (2014, September 17). CVS Health Research Institute Provides First Look at Treatment with New Hepatitis C Therapies. Woonsocket, RI: CVS Health. Retrieved from: http://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-health-research-institute-provides-first-look-treatment-new-hepatitis-c-therapies