Keep a watch also on the faults of the patients, which often make them lie about the taking of things prescribed.
Launching A Guerrilla Attack On Patient Compliance – The Battle Of Patients With Pants On Fire
The publication of Lots Of Patients Fib, Sometimes By Accident, a nicely done article by Karen Ravn in the June 8, 2009 LA Times about patients who lie to their physicians provides a circumscribed clinical scenario that demonstrates both the problems with the current patient compliance paradigm and the rationale for the kinds of changes necessary to transform it into a useful concept.
An excerpt from the Lots Of Patients Fib, Sometimes By Accident follows:
It’s well-known that patients don’t always do a perfect job of following — or “adhering to” — the treatment plans their doctors lay out for them. A paper published in 2004 in the journal Medical Care analyzed more than 500 studies on that matter and found that, on average, about 75% of patients met the adherence standards researchers had set.
But these figures may overestimate adherence because some patients are probably fudging. “Patients who say they always take their meds may not be,” says Dr. Steven Hahn, professor of clinical medicine at Albert Einstein College and an internist at Jacobi Medical Center in New York City.
“Patients who say they don’t always take them are likely to be missing significant amounts.”
One indication of how much people fib is how things change when they know they’re being watched.
In a 2001 study in the Journal of Hypertension, scientists followed 41 patients who had been unsuccessful in lowering their blood pressure with three prescribed drugs. Patients continued taking the same three drugs during the study, but they now knew they were being monitored electronically: The drugs came in special packages that recorded the date and time whenever they were opened.
After two months of being monitored, about one-third of the patients had lowered their blood pressure to the normal range. Chances were good, the researchers concluded, that those patients had not been taking the drugs properly before.
A number of other studies have found that patients in clinical trials sometimes “dump” their medication — i.e., simply dispose of it — so it will look as if they’ve been using it as prescribed even though they haven’t.
Also, in the above-mentioned 2000 study published in Chest, 236 patients used inhalers to take medication intended to help them breathe. The inhalers were fitted with electronic monitors that could record the date and time whenever patients used them. Not all of the patients knew about the monitoring feature.
During one year of the study, 30 of the 101 patients who did not know they were being monitored — about 30% — dumped at least once. (Dumping was defined as activating the inhaler more than 100 times within a three-hour period.)
Of the 135 patients who did know they were being monitored, only one dumped.
Most of the dumping incidents occurred just before a clinic visit, and researchers concluded that patients dumped in order to give the impression that they had used their inhalers more often than they had.
No experienced clinicians, I suspect, will be surprised by this information. And, I’ve found few non-clinicians, who, on reflection, fail to recognize that misleading a doctor about treatment adherence, whether by omission or commission, is common.
The potential consequences, however, may be less apparent.
I examined the difficulties created by patients misleading their doctors about their compliance with the prescribed treatment in an earlier post, Treatment Adherent Refusal Of Prescribed Medications. There I pointed out the risk that the patient would undergo unnecessarily aggressive treatment:
Clinicians cannot efficaciously deal with treatment failure caused by noncompliance if they do not know that the patient did not follow the treatment plan. At best, physicians will be less efficient in providing appropriate care; at worst, they may modify the treatment with disastrous results.
Moreover, the dangers to the patient’s health and the financial cost to the patient and society can increase exponentially. Consider this example from Noncompliance Costs of a nonadherent patient who hides the noncompliance from his doctor:
A Case Of Routine & Tragic Patient Noncompliance
A patient with an respiratory infection does not complete the full course of the antibiotic prescribed by his physician. When symptoms persist, the patient returns to his doctor but fails to report the noncompliance. The physician consequently believes that the original medication was somehow inadequate (e.g., the pathogen was resistant to the medication or not covered within the therapeutic range of the medication) and prescribes a different agent, one that is more costly and more prone to side-effects.
Already in this scenario, noncompliance has resulted in
- At least one unnecessary clinic visit
- Two medications in a situation in which one might have sufficed
- A potentially erroneous shift in ongoing treatment
- An increased risk of adverse medication effects, both because the second drug causes more side-effects than the first and because the patient is exposed to two medications instead of one
- A deviation, based on misinformation, from the initial treatment plan which, by design, should provide the optimal combination of safety, affordability, and effectiveness for that patient. At best, the new treatment plan will be similar to but somehow less advantageous than the original therapy. At worst, the noncompliance-caused treatment failure will cause the clinician to mistakenly alter the diagnosis and treatment such that the actual problem is not addressed.
This example is, admittedly, oversimplified. Some disorders improve despite noncompliance with treatment. Some clinicians might have suspected noncompliance when the patient did not improve. Some patients do confess their failure to follow the treatment plan. Nonetheless, a plethora of evidence demonstrates that noncompliance clearly increases the risk of treatment failure, that clinicians rarely recognize or even suspect noncompliance, and that patients even more rarely reveal nonadherence to treatment. This example is, in fact, statistically condensed but conceptually accurate, and countless analogous cases occur every day throughout the healthcare system. …2
Because of the complexity and interdependent nature of the contemporary healthcare system, the impact of patient noncompliance is rarely limited to wasting one medical treatment that would have been successful if implemented. Instead, any treatment failure caused by noncompliance is subject to an array of multipliers, some obvious and some invisible, that can easily increase the potential fiscal, physiological, and social cost exponentially and connections, both direct and indirect, that distribute a similar range of losses to others. Moreover, the extraordinarily high value western culture places on both the individual and health heightens the stakes and further drives the process.
Not only is this a common problem and one with serious consequences but it is also one nurtured by the contemporary patient compliance model.
Patient Compliance Is A Self Defeating Strategy
In Treatment Adherent Refusal Of Prescribed Medications, I also pointed out that the conflict between patient and clinician that is part and parcel of our perspective on patient compliance motivates the patient to lie to the doctor:
The currently prevalent models of noncompliance management have a final common pathway: their objective, their only measure of success, is the patient following the medication regimen as prescribed – whether this goal is attained by coercion, persuasion, incentives, moral appeals to responsibility or concern for ones family, patient education, or other methods. Even so-called “patient empowerment” can be accurately translated in this context as “the patient is empowered to choose to take the medication as prescribed.” Consequently, patients who do not take their medications as prescribed are powerfully but covertly encouraged to actively or passively mislead clinicians about the noncompliance, perpetuating this vicious cycle.
This realization led to what I then modestly called …
The Incredibly Revolutionary Idea
1. We quit pretending that noncompliance will disappear if patients are properly educated, persuaded, empowered, informed, motivated, coerced, bribed, threatened, influenced, or reminded. We acknowledge the obvious – that except in a few cases,3 the patient makes the final choice about following a prescribed treatment.
2. Rather than continue the unrequited efforts to eradicate noncompliance, we try, as a first step in breaking the vicious cycle, fixing that part of the healthcare system that multiplies the damage caused by noncompliance: the miscommunication between clinician and patient about noncompliance.
I went on to suggest how the reader might address this issue directly with his or her clinician, but precise tactics are, in this case, less important than the big picture, i.e., the afore mentioned Incredibly Revolutionary Idea.
The New Order Of Things – Replacing Patient Compliance
While only one aspect of the healthcare process, the problem of patients lying about adherence does spotlight the need for and the type of change in patient compliance I am promoting.
Continuing to emphasize the requirement of adhering to a prescribed treatment regimen also continues the conflict between patient and clinician, which, in turn, encourages the patient to lie to the doctor about following treatment. Because every doctor has had the experience of patients lying to him or her, the mistrust has become pervasive. Wary doctors may well mistrust all patients since discerning who is and isn’t telling the truth is difficult and often impossible. Consequently the entire system has become corrupted.
My contentions are (1) the goal is not good compliance by a specific patient but instead optimal treatment for each patient and (2) optimal treatment is most efficaciously pursued by aligning the doctor, the patient, and other stakeholders to maximize mutual trust, a strategy which takes priority over the percentage of prescribed pills taken by the patient.
To dismantle the patient compliance apparatus that has hindered improvements in treatment outcomes, a systemic shift in perspective is necessary.
As an integral element of that shift, the doctor must convincingly transmit to the patient that valid and reliable communication between them supersedes a compliance scorecard.
Or, I suppose we can invest in electronic compliance monitoring devices, lie detectors, and a spy network.
By the way, we might want to consider changing the name from “lie detector” to something like “trust enhancement processor.”__________
- I know – I’m tired of seeing this quotation too. It just fit so well, I felt compelled to use it.↩
- This scene is extended beyond this point in the original example at Noncompliance Costs, . I recommend reading it in its entirety to gain a perspective on how impressively simple it is to conjure up plausible scenarios in which initial noncompliance which is compounded by lying about it leads to severe incapacity or death and, by extrapolation, how likely it is that this sort of thing happens with some frequency.↩
- E.g., cases involving children or adult patients incompetent to handle their own healthcare and cases in which forced compliance with treatment is legally sanctioned and is pragmatically feasible↩