Drugs Don’t Work in Patients who Don’t Take Them

The title of today’s post is allegedly a quote by C. Everett Koop, MD (picture).

I would like to take the liberty of modifying this to the following: “Treatments for chronic diseases only work as long as they are applied” (you can quote me on this 🙂 ).

Why bring this up? Because a) obesity is a chronic disease and b) because, when treatment stops, the weight always comes back.

Simply put, the problem in obesity treatment is not how to lose weight – the only real problem is how to keep the weight off. The answer of course is simple (and by now hopefully known to all regular readers of this blog): do not stop the treatment when the weight has come off!

Easier said than done. But there is nothing unique about this to obesity. In fact, patient adherence to treatment is a problem in all chronic diseases – whether you are dealing with diabetes, hypertension or rheumatoid arthritis – when the treatment stops, the “disease” comes back (this BTW happen to be the definition of a chronic disease!).

Given that this is such a common and ubiquitous problem, it would be a surprise if this issue has not been studied before. A very readable and relevant article on this, is the one by Lars Osterberg and Terrence Blashke, published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2005. Although this paper focusses on adherence to medication – the principles also hold true for non-pharmacological treatment.

Of particular interest are the major predictors of poor adherence listed in this paper (each point is referenced in the article):

1. Presence of psychological problems, particularly depression (I would add ADD to this!)

2. Presence of cognitive impairment

3. Asymptomatic disease

4. inadequate follow-up or discharge planning

5. Side effects

6. Patient’s lack of belief in benefits of treatment

7. Patient’s lack of insight into illness

8. Poor provider-patient relationship

9. Presence of barriers to care or treatment

10. Missed appointments

11. Complexity of treatment

12. Cost or co-payment

All of the above also apply to obesity management. Spending some time figuring out which of the above is causing your patient to fall off therapy is key – blaming or threatening your patient is not the answer.

Edmonton, Alberta