Studies point to a need for better physician-patient communication

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Patients are more likely to take their medications if their doctors talk to them about how those medications work, when they should be taken and what the possible side effects are, a study has found.

That might sound like a no-brainer, but the study, published in the Annals of Family Medicine, adds weight to efforts to get physicians to walk patients through the drugs they prescribe, making patients more likely to take their medicine as directed. If doctors throw in an informational packet, so much the better.

The findings support an emerging picture of on- and offline patient behavior, suggesting that when it comes to information, sometimes, more really is better.

Health consulting firm Altarum came upon similar findings when it homed in on patient behavior from an insurance perspective this fall. Among its findings: 61% of patients polled two years ago wanted control over their healthcare decisions, regardless of salary, income and plan design. At the same time, Altarum found that 43% of patients polled said they stopped taking their medications without professional guidance and that 72% asked physicians for medications beyond what was being recommended.

It's here that the reasons for the gap between what doctors want—adherence—and what patients end up (not) doing—taking their medications—begins to surface. For example, Altarum found that the majority of patients do not ask about lower-priced options because they “do not appear to be confident that they actually can reduce their costs by shopping for health care.” This communication barrier is costly—the Congressional Budget Office said back in December that rising co-pays drove down prescription fills only to trigger a cycle of more cost-intensive conditions. Richard Lockey, the director of allergy and immunology at Morsani College of Medicine in Tampa, FL, has seen the impact of higher prices first-hand, and recounted his experience of price-linked non-adherence among anaphylaxis patients in the April 2012 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Lockey's group only found out that cost was coming between patients and their medications after asking them why prescriptions weren't being filled, and it was only then that they were able to offer a cheaper, more accessible solution.

Further supporting the informed patient perspective is Monday's report from the info crunchers at the Pew Internet and American Life Project which showed that patients with chronic conditions are highly engaged with tracking at least one component of their health. The top attention-grabbing categories are weight, diet and exercise. Pew said that although almost 50% of the surveyed patients said they update their records occasionally and 46% said they record updates regularly, just over a third of them actually shared their notes with anyone, and yet 34% of trackers said this highly guarded information has affected how they handled their conditions.
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