Increased Patient Adherence: As Simple as Giving Patients Better Information in Drug Packaging
Dr Rota, President, ALT (Association for the Fight against Thrombosis and the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease) and physician, says accessible language “is fundamental for educating the patient on the importance of taking the medication at the correct intervals and to encourage compliance.”
Increasing patient adherence is still a major concern for pharma. Yet, ensuring the information included in the drug packaging is more user-friendly and understandable could dramatically increase the number of patients taking their medication correctly.
Communication via product packaging
According to Dr Rota, there’s a discrepancy between how pharma companies are communicating with patients and the way they actually want to be spoken to.
“The so called ‘bugiardino’ (the accompanying leaflet contained in drug packaging) contains a lot of information but is often written in small type and in a technical language. This means elderly patients find it hard to read and don’t fully understand the implications of incorrect or inconsistent use of the drug.”
"The 'bugiardino' also puts undue emphasis on side effects, so that the patients get scared and tend to reduce the correct dosage of the drugs, so losing the therapeutical effect".
Just a few simple changes could vastly improve this. Dr Rota argues that the use of patient friendly language is “fundamental” to get patients to take the right amount of the drug at the right times: “Illustrations can markedly increase attention and consequently improve the results of the therapy.”
Hostility towards pharma companies
She also feels that lack of communication when it comes to what pharmaceutical companies are trying to achieve has fostered a certain amount of animosity towards pharma.
“Patients think that the ‘bugiardino’ is not written with the aim of teaching them how to manage the medication in a safe manner, but is made with the purpose of protecting the producer on legal grounds,” she says.
The more the patients believe this is the case, the more harmful this is for pharma’s reputation and the relationship between industry and patients. Indeed, the result has been something of an ‘us and them’ mentality, which has ultimately led to mistrust and an alienated consumer.
Ensuring trust and transparency is, therefore, very important according to Dr Rota. For, it’s only by trusting what the pharma companies are saying about the drugs that patients understand how to take their medication in the most beneficial way.
“Patients ignore the huge effort and investment in research that are made by pharma companies. The general perception is that pharmaceutical companies prioritize their own financial interests while disregarding the patient’s health, and this could not be further from the truth.”
More thoughtful packaging of products
Alongside the quality of language on the packaging, Dr Rota suggests that there is often a problem with the way in which medication is sold and packaged.
“The amount of pills in a box does not always correspond to the amount needed for a complete cycle of therapy. This is particularly true for antibiotics”, she states, highlighting the waste that could be avoided within the health system.
Improving communication with patients
In terms of opening themselves up to better communication, Dr Rota thinks pharma could do a lot more to provide patients with a forum to ask their questions.
“Patients don't even realise that they could contact the pharma companies for extra information, help or further guidance”, she asserts.
“Patients are divided into two big groups: the older generation over 60 who trust their doctors and do not question their authority, and the younger patients who look for more information on the internet, which can often be overwhelming and misleading. Internet sources are often not competent, uncertified and are unreliable for various reasons,” meaning that patients often make their own decisions using incorrect information.
She adds that patients are usually only aware of a drug if they themselves, or a family member, is using or has used them.
“Correct use of a drug is vital” thus patients should be better educated on correct usage, as well as knowing both positive benefits and possible side effects, something which could help patients and their family and friends. A helpline conducted by an expert physician could be a solution".
Ways in which pharma companies could adapt their practices
“Pharma should aim to build trust and modify the perception that they are motivated purely by monetary gain, emphasizing their commitment to R&D investment and to improving patient health and quality of life”, Dr Rota states.
“One way of doing this is by involving the pharmacist in a patient support team. Pharmacists are perfectly positioned to have an educational role and to have regular interactions with the patient often on a daily basis, hence building a relationship".
Dr Rota goes on to suggest that “pharma could offer a special toll-free number in order to provide reliable solutions in cases of emergency stemming from side effects or overdose. Access should be immediate, easy and friendly.”
New media tools like internet blogs or forums should be used to provide a useful support to patients about the correct use of the drugs.
“A blog for FAQS could help them to build confidence in the company, building an ongoing relationship based on trust".
The methods and strategies which Dr Rota envisages may seem easy, but they can also be viewed as a massive change to the status quo. Above all, it’s essential that pharma companies have the will to make these changes to the way they package their products and engage patients. They must ensure they adopt a holistic approach to the patient experience journey; each touch-point from packaging to website experience needs to address the needs of the patient and deliver value while engendering trust and confidence.
Dr Rota will be presenting at the Patients' Summit 2014, London, 17-18 June, on how pharma can better develop its relationship with patients. Click here for further details.
For more information on ALT (Associazione per la LottaallaTrombosi e allemalattiecardiovascolari), click here.