How to keep people on their heart disease medication

Helping patients with heart disease to take their medications may be as simple as sending a text or giving them a polypill, researchers at The George Institute for Global Health have found.

A team led by PhD student Karla Santo evaluated sixteen different methods of engaging people with their drug regimens, and found these methods can increase the odds of patients sticking to their medicine by 50 per cent. The simplest methods, such as SMS reminders and polypills, were just as effective as the more complex interventions including education and counselling programs to the patients.

Worldwide only 60 per cent of people with coronary heart disease take their medicines correctly, prompting the team at the George Institute to evaluate sixteen studies on interventions to help these patients to improve their medication-taking habits.

Karla Santo said: “We know that many people both here in Australia and around the world find it hard to keep following their drug regimes. Many are very complex to follow, but when you stop taking the drugs correctly, your chances of having a heart attack rise.

“Too many people are losing their lives. We need to identify the most effective way to keep people taking their medications as directed.”

In Australia alone more than 4000 incidents and 1880 deaths could be prevented each year if the number of heart attacks was reduced by 25 per cent.

With a heart attack costing the community $281,000 through healthcare costs as well as lost productivity, interventions that keep people on their drug regimens could save the country hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The study looked at the following types of interventions:

  1. Patient education such as verbal, written or visual educational materials.
  2. Counselling such as focusing on the importance of medication.
  3. Regular contact between patients and health professionals through face to face consultations or on the phone.
  4. Medication aids including pillboxes, or special pill packaging.
  5. Simplifying the drug regimen by decreasing the number of doses or pills taken each day.
  6. Reminders via the mail, by phone or text.
  7. Reducing co-payments to buy medications
  8. Collaboration between doctors and pharmacists

PhD student Dr Santo said more research is now needed on the clinical benefits and cost effectiveness of the most promising interventions.

Read the study article in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.