Docs who stay in touch help patients get well

November 1, 2002

Pharmaceutical Representative

Simple communication may be the key to treating depressed patients more effectively with antidepressant medication, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Simple communication may be the key to treating depressed patients more effectively with antidepressant medication, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (vol. 288, no. 11).

Investigators at Oakland, CA-based Kaiser Permanente found that communication about the intended length of therapy and possible side effects helped patients to continue their antidepressant medication longer. Additionally, patients who talked to their doctors about side effects that emerged were five times more likely to be switched to a new medication when needed than patients who didn't have those discussions.

"We also identified a gap between what doctors believe they've communicated and what patients hear or remember," said Scott Bull, lead author of the study. "Seventy-three percent of physicians said they usually tell patients to keep taking their antidepressants for at least six months, but only 34% of patients remembered being told by their physicians to keep taking them that long."

According to Bull, patients who don't communicate with their doctor are likely candidates for a relapse.

"A patient who doesn't understand how long they should continue taking their antidepressant drugs, and doesn't know what to expect in regard to side effects they might experience, is less likely to keep taking them long enough to experience the full benefits of the medication," said Bull.

Frequent follow-ups

Keeping track of patients also made a difference in the quality of a depression patient's care. Bull and colleagues found that patients who had more than three follow-up visits with their prescribing doctor were more likely to keep taking the antidepressant originally prescribed for them. "That tells me that frequent contact between a doctor and his or her patient makes a difference as well," said Bull. "These contacts probably make it easier for patients to talk with their physicians about how well the treatment is working and any side effects they're experiencing." PR

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