By: Brandon M. Macsata, CEO, ADAP Advocacy Association
Sticking firmly to an HIV medication regiment is probably the single most important thing people living with HIV/AIDS (hereafter referred to as patients) can do to help themselves remain healthy with an undetectable viral load. AIDSinfo explains why: "Adherence to an HIV regimen gives HIV medicines the chance to do their job: to prevent HIV from multiplying and destroying the immune system. HIV medicines help people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. HIV medicines also reduce the risk of HIV transmission." Numerous strategies exist to promote better medication adherence to combat HIV/AIDS, with varying degrees of success.
Generally speaking about all health-related conditions, non-adherence results in additional healthcare costs, more hospital admissions, and approximately 125,000 deaths annually. Cost is often identified as the biggest barrier to better medication adherence. Other barriers certainly exist.
Pharmacists on are the front lines in promoting medication adherence to their patients. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), "Pharmacists practice in nearly all areas and specialties in healthcare – sometimes behind the scenes and not obvious to the public eye, but as the medication expert on the healthcare team, pharmacists are necessary in all facets of healthcare."
For example, Walgreens uses local, patient-centric model with 3,000 ACPE-trained pharmacists (Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education), as well as HIV-specialized pharmacies in high-incident areas nationwide. To improve medication adherence, pharmacists provide approved culturally competent adherence support through monthly reminders and follow ups. The direct interaction with patients serves as an important tool to promote HIV medication adherence.
A project in the Netherlands trained 21 nurses to work with patients on self-management of their HIV medication regiment, and the project yielded some promising results. The Adherence-Improving Self-Management Strategy (AIMS) approach included the nurses sharing important information about adherence with patients; setting adherence goals; utilizing electronic medication bottle caps; and intensive follow-up with the patients during scheduled office visits.
Read a summary on AIMS and its potential for improving HIV medication adherence.
A commitment contract between the patient and healthcare provider can improve HIV medication adherence and virologic suppression, according to a recent study. In some cases, cash incentives were offered during the clinical trial. The study, conducted at a publicly-funded HIV clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, demonstrated the most adherent patients entered into "a commitment contract that made the payment conditional on both attending the provider visit and meeting an ART adherence threshold." These patients were more adherent than patients who had received cash incentives, or the passive control arm of the study.
Read a summary on Commitment Contracts.
One of the most effective strategies for patients, especially considering today's technology, is downloading a free calendar reminder Application. Reminder Apps can be downloaded from the Internet or from numerous other places, such as iTunes, Google Play, Microsoft Store, etc. In fact, Healthline published a useful review on this very topic last year in, "The Best HIV/AIDS Apps of 2016."
Other strategies include daily/weekly pill boxes, pre-packaged medications, patient support groups, fixed dose once-daily anti-retrovirals, just to name a few. Since every patient is different it is important to consider treatment strategies that reflect the needs of the patient.
Whereas numerous barriers can make following an HIV medication regiment difficult — such as cost, complexity of treatment, missed appointments — there exist a plethora of options designed to support successful treatment strategies. Like any chronic condition, medication adherence for people living with HIV/AIDS is important. It prevents patients from developing drug resistance and treatment failure, it prevents unnecessary hospital admissions, and it prevents higher healthcare costs.
 AIDSinfo (2017, July 17); National Institutes of Health; HIV Medication Adherence; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Retrieved from https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/fact-sheets/21/54/hiv-medication-adherence.
 CVS Health News (2017); Cost is the Biggest Barrier to Medication Adherence; CVS Health. Retrieved from https://cvshealth.com/thought-leadership/cvs-health-research-institute/cost-biggest-barrier-medication-adherence.
 PHARMCAS (2017); Role of a Pharmacist; American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). Retrieved from http://www.pharmcas.org/preparing-to-apply/about-pharmacy/role-of-a-pharmacist/.
 Hou, J., Kirkham, H., Pietrandoni, G., & Delpino, A. (2016, August 23 – 26). Patient adherence to antiretroviral medications among patients using HIV- Specialized pharmacy and traditional pharmacy settings. Paper presented at the 2016 National Ryan White Conference on HIV Care and Treatment, Washington, DC.
 Jungwirth, Barbara (2017, May 17); A Nurse-Led Adherence Strategy Improves Life for People With HIV and Saves Money; TheBody.com. Retrieved from http://www.thebody.com/content/79916/a-nurse-led-adherence-strategy-improves-life-for-p.html?ic=700100&sp_rid=NjI5OTAwMTAxMTMS1&sp_mid=11051078.
 Alsan, Marcella, et al. (2017, July); AIDS; A commitment contract to achieve virologic suppression in poorly adherent patients with HIV/AIDS; International AIDS Society Journal. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/aidsonline/Citation/2017/07310/A_commitment_contract_to_achieve_virologic.15.aspx.
 Carey, Elea, and Jared Fields (2016, June 13); The Best HIV/AIDS Apps of 2016; Healthline. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health/hiv-aids/top-iphone-android-apps#1.