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Feb 11, 2014

Improving Medication Adherence in Heart Attack Patients

New support program helps patients adhere to a personalized treatment plan following a heart attack.

For heart attack survivors, treatment doesn’t end after discharge from the hospital. To live a long and healthy life, it’s important that patients work closely with their doctors to reduce risk of a second heart attack. Unfortunately, few stick to these treatment plans but researchers are hopeful that a new support program will improve medication adherence in heart attack patients.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers tested a follow-up program to improve medication adherence in patients with acute coronary syndrome—an umbrella term for situations where blood supply to the heart is blocked. Acute coronary syndrome can mean that a patient is having severe chest pain or experiencing a heart attack and either way, immediate treatment is needed to restore normal blood flow to the heart. Patients with acute coronary syndrome are at increased risk for a future heart attack, which is why follow-up treatment is so important.

More than 250 patients enrolled in this study between 2010 and 2011 from four VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals in Colorado, Arkansas, Washington and North Carolina. Participants were randomly chosen to receive one of two types of follow-up treatment. Some received “intensive” follow-up, which included tailored treatment plans, patient education, reminder calls, and a health care team comprised of a pharmacist, primary care doctor and cardiologist. Others in the “standard” group received usual care, which included diet and exercise advice, follow-up appointments, and a list of numbers to call for support.

After following patients for a year, researchers found that those in the intensive group were much more likely to adhere to their treatment plan than those receiving standard care. Using data from pharmacies, researchers could tell that those in the intensive group refilled their prescriptions much more regularly than the standard care group. After analysis, they concluded that nearly 90% of patients in the intensive group adhered closely to their medications, compared to 74% in the group receiving standard care.

Although there was no difference in the blood pressure or cholesterol levels of participants in either group, authors believe that intensive follow-up programs will help prevent second heart attacks in these high-risk patients. Prescription medication is one of the best ways to help patients reduce risk of a second heart attack, but they can only work when taken correctly. With additional research, experts hope to demonstrate the significant benefits of follow-up programs that improve medication adherence and implement them nationally to help heart attack survivors live longer, healthier lives.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is acute coronary syndrome?
  • Acute coronary syndrome is an umbrella term used to describe situations where there is sudden, reduced blood flow to the heart. Acute coronary syndrome encompasses chest pain and heart attack, both of which can be serious and life-threatening.
  • How is acute coronary syndrome treated?

  • Acute coronary syndrome can be treated with a variety of medications and/or procedures, depending on how blocked the arteries are. Medications can include any combination of aspirin, thrombolytics, beta blockers, cholesterol-lowering drugs and ACE inhibitors, among others. Procedures can also help treat acute coronary syndrome, including angioplasty, stenting and coronary bypass surgery.

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