Personalized Strategies to Address Barriers to HIV Drug Adherence Boost Chances of Successful Therapy, Penn Medicine Study Shows
Patient-Directed Problem-Solving Approach Improves Proper Dosing, Cuts Viral Load
January 29, 2013 - PHILADELPHIA - HIV patients who participated in an intervention that helped them identify
barriers to taking their drugs properly and develop customized coping strategies took a significantly greater amount of their prescribed
doses than those receiving standard care, according to a new study from researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at
the University of Pennsylvania. The results, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, may point to a new strategy to improve adherence to medications for many other conditions.
"Nonadherence to medical therapy is a silent epidemic that undercuts physicians' efforts to treat diseases from high cholesterol and hypertension to HIV and diabetes," says
the new study's lead author, Robert Gross, MD, MSCE , an associate
professor of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology. "We tend to view the problem as either a failure on our part or on the patient's
part, but the results of our new study show that we can do our jobs better by sharing the planning role with them to overcome
possible stumbling blocks to taking their prescribed drugs."
Antiretroviral drugs have turned HIV/AIDS into a manageable, chronic condition for many patients who would have died
of the disease before the development of these medications, but they require lifelong adherence to be effective. The drugs have
short half lives and need to be in the patients' system at all time in order to keep the virus from replicating, so frequently
missing doses drastically cuts the chances that treatment will be successful. Predicting which patients will adhere to
therapy has proven difficult.
"The barriers to taking these drugs properly are not universal - for some patients, substance abuse or depression might
undercut efforts to stay on track, and for others, the complexity of the dosing regimen may pose a problem. Side effects - both real
and perceived - can impact adherence, and psychosocial issues like low health literacy or a chaotic lifestyle can interfere,
too," Gross says. "We know from previous research that these issues cannot be overcome by simple education or simple
technology alone, and financial incentives typically don't produce a sustained effect."
The researchers studied 180 patients receiving care at three Philadelphia HIV clinics, who were divided into two groups,
one of which was randomized to a Managed Problem Solving (MAPS) group, and the other to usual care, which included a meeting with a
pharmacist for drug regimen education and the provision of pill organizers. In order to study the benefit of the intervention,
only patients who had detectable viral loads were enrolled.
With the help of a trained lay interventionist, MAPS participants received education about their newly prescribed drug regimen
and then were taken through a process for identifying their personal barriers to adherence, brainstorming potential solutions, selecting
the best option and monitoring its implementation. Potential solutions included memory and cognitive aids to remember to take and
refill the drugs, ways to use social supports, and resources to seek help for depression or drug side effects. These plans were
made during four initial in-person sessions and 12 telephone meetings that provided help for solving new problems and
offering encouragement for obtaining refills and maintaining their regimens. Both groups' adherence to their drug
regimen was recorded through the use of an electronically monitored pill bottle.
The results showed that the MAPS group was nearly twice (1.78 times) as likely as the usual care group to be at the better
end of the adherence scale. Importantly, the researchers showed that this improvement in adherence translated to improvement in a key
marker of survival. The MAPS group also had a 50 percent improvement in their viral suppression rate - having no detectable HIV
virus in the blood while on treatment. Although the findings showed that patients who had previously taken and failed
antiretroviral regimens were only half as likely to be in the better adherence categories and have virologic
suppression than those new to therapy, they were equally likely to benefit from the MAPS intervention.
Gross notes that for every 25 percent increase in antiretroviral drug doses taken, a patient's
chance of having treatment success was doubled in the study.
Patients whose viral loads are suppressed are at much less risk of transmitting HIV to others in the community, so efforts
to improve adherence stand to benefit the population at large.
"Importantly, we found that this intervention was equally effective for both patients who were just beginning therapy and
those who had already been taking the drugs and had problems adhering, and it continued to be effective over time, unlike many
approaches in which patients eventually fall into less adherent behavior," Gross says. "The effect we found also persisted
even though the population we studied has many life challenges, including poverty and unemployment."
He and his colleagues suggest that the same approach could be utilized to improve treatment adherence for patients
with Hepatitis C, heart failure, and other diseases, particularly if the MAPS process could be scaled back to require less
interaction with interventionist, and if patients who may require "booster" sessions could be identified. The authors
have made their Managed Problem Solving treatment manual available online for use by other clinicians,
Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions
of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman
School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of
Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical
schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $479.3
million awarded in the 2011 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
-- recognized as one of the nation's top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania
Hospital - the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services
throughout the Philadelphia region.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities.
In fiscal year 2011, Penn Medicine provided $854 million to benefit our community.
Source: Penn Medicine: University of Pennsylvania
"Reproduced with permission - Penn Medicine: University of Pennsylvania"
Penn Medicine: University of Pennsylvania
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