WEDNESDAY, Aug. 23, 2017 -- Doctors can help boost use of high blood pressure medications by their poor patients simply by talking to them, a new study suggests.
Many people fail to take their blood pressure-lowering drugs, putting them at higher risk of heart attack and stroke, the American Heart Association says.
But by communicating more effectively and talking to patients about their specific challenges, physicians may improve medication use, researchers found.
"Health care providers should talk to patients about the things that get in the way of taking their medication, such as relationship status, employment and housing," said Antoinette Schoenthaler, the study's lead author.
"Unemployment, for example, affects whether patients can afford medication, which is a primary risk factor for non-adherence," said Schoenthaler, an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine.
She and her colleagues examined recorded interactions between 92 patients and 27 health care providers at three practices serving a poor New York City population. Blacks, women and the unemployed made up the majority of the patients.
The researchers focused on communication between patients and clinicians, and electronically tracked the patients' pill bottles for three months to see how often the containers were opened.
Patients were three times less likely to take their medications if their doctors didn't ask open-ended questions and make sure they understood instructions, the study found. Open-ended questions often yield more information than yes-no questions.
Also, patients were six times less likely to take their blood pressure drugs when doctors didn't ask about potential challenges such as employment and housing.
The results were published Aug. 22 in the journal Circulation: Quality and Outcomes.
"When health care providers ask patients about life challenges or take the time to check their patient's understanding of instructions, it signals that their health care provider genuinely cares about them and provides the motivation and confidence to manage their health issues on their own," Schoenthaler said in a journal news release.
If important issues go undiscussed, she said, doctors may never figure out why patients are not taking their medications.
For more about blood pressure medications, try the American Heart Association.
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