Researchers weigh impacts of personalized education and covering costs of medications
CALGARY – Alberta researchers hope 5,000 seniors across the province can help them improve the health of those with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers are trying to determine if interventions such as providing free preventive medications and personalized educational programs will help seniors better follow the recommendations of their doctors.
About 40 per cent of people with chronic conditions take their prescribed medications 100 per cent of the time, according to Dr. Braden Manns, a Calgary nephrologist and the principal investigator in the study.
“You can’t feel high blood pressure or high cholesterol and so it’s sometimes difficult for patients to understand the importance of taking preventive medications when they’re not currently experiencing any symptoms,” says Dr. Manns, also a professor in the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine’s departments of medicine and community health sciences.
“The other reason people might not be getting their prescriptions filled is financial. Although insurance covers a significant portion of the cost of medication, the amount of the co-payment can still be a significant burden for some seniors,” says Dr. Manns, also a member of the university’s Libin Cardiovascular Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health.
Not taking recommended medications can hasten the development of cardiovascular disease and increase the risk of life-threatening events, including heart attack and stroke.
Estimates suggest treatment costs for chronic conditions such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease, as well as heart attack and stroke, wind up costing the Canadian health system more than $93 billion a year.
“Another important element that is being studied is the personalized educational component,” says Dr. Scott Klarenbach, an Edmonton nephrologist and professor of medicine at the University of Alberta, who is also involved in the study.
“People have the option of doing the program online or through the mail. The idea is that it gives people information and skills in a positive, engaging way that might allow them to better manage their conditions.” Dr. Klarenbach says.
Study participants also receive a pedometer and regular check-ins by phone with study co-ordinators.
Researchers are assessing the outcomes of people randomly assigned to four different intervention groups within the study: those who continue their present medication coverage and usual education through their physician’s office; those who receive a personalized education plan; those who receive free preventive medications; or those who receive both the personalized education plan and free preventive medications.
Rochelle Roseman, 81, signed up for the study about three months ago after her son saw a poster in a doctor’s office. The Calgary woman wound up in the section of the study that is footing 100 per cent of the costs of her medications and providing personalized education.
“It’s really made a big difference to me,” she says. “Before the study, I was paying about $200 a month,” she says. Roseman is currently taking nine different medications, including for arthritis, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. “I really enjoy getting the information packages in the mail and talking to the study co-ordinators,” she says.
“Research into chronic conditions for seniors ensures that our aging population receives the right treatments at the right time,” says Dr. Pamela Valentine, Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions CEO (Interim) and Transition CEO, Alberta Innovates. “Healthy seniors make up healthy communities, and that’s good for all Albertans.”
To participate in the three-year study, individuals must be over 65 years of age, have an annual household income less than $50,000, and be at high risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
Participants will have a 50 per cent chance of receiving free preventive medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, blood thinners and medications to help stop smoking for the duration of the study.
Travel is not required for interviews or assessments; all the interactions with researchers take place by phone or email.
The project, called ACCESS (Assessing outcomes of enhanced Chronic disease Care through patient Education and a value-based formulary Study), is funded by Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and others.
Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.