Non-compliant

There’s a funny thing that you see over and over and over in healthcare: people who ignore their doctor’s advice, be it their GP or specialist, then come to the emergency department for help when they reach crisis. I guess there’s something human in us all that makes us think we’re above taking advice, even when the person giving advice has a level of expertise that we don’t. But when a complaining patient is only in ED through their own actions it can be hard to feel terrible for them. They still get the appropriate treatment, don’t get me wrong there, but when you’re done and dusted dealing with them you might share a roll of the eyes with their nurse or doctor over their behaviour.

You didn’t pay any attention to your doctor before when you were told how best to manage your condition, so why would you listen to us now? More to the point, are you going to listen now? Or maybe you will listen right now because you’ve scared yourself with how sick you’ve gotten, but how about next week, or next month? Will it be back to old habits? You got yourself into this, and now you think we would help you, because…? Of course, ethically we have to help you, even if we think you’re a dodo who has made their own bed and should possibly have to lie in it, but we spend a lot of time shaking our heads. There are a lot of sincerely needy patients: fractures, cancer patients, appendicitis, infections, many patients who have illnesses out of their own control. And when those patient’s beds are full of patients who could have avoided being there…well it grates on a few nerves is all. But we’re all only human, so we try to understand you, and anyway we’re health professionals so it’s our job to give you our best assistance regardless of our personal opinion. A professor at uni once gave this quotable quote:

“professionalism is a cloak for our personal problems”.

Compliance is the word of choice adopted by health professionals to discuss, at least in pharmacy terms, how well a patient manages to comply with the regimen of medications given to them. Do they take the medications prescribed, do they take them at the time/s prescribed, with or without food as prescribed, separate in time to other medications as prescribed, for the duration prescribed and so on? If so then they are described as compliant, if not then they are said to be non-compliant. There’s a bit of political correctness around which word you use because of the effect it might have on the patient if you “label” them. Adherence is another option, concurrence is almost never used and there’s one that I can’t think of that’s been ruled out. It applies in medicine terms as well as in other fields.

So a patient arrives at the emergency department. The presenting problem, that one main issue that has caused them to come to us right now? They have severe pain, 8/10 on the usual pain scale. And why? Well they have a chronic pain condition, whatever that is, and we know that they can relapse from time to time, but actually the reason for this relapse is that the patient stopped their pain meds. Okay, so you’ve come to the  emergency department for help: what exactly do you think we’re doing to do, other than restart your pain meds? Surely you could have worked that one out. I get that pain meds have a lot of side effects that can be hard to deal with. But wouldn’t it have been better to sit down with a doctor and work out a management plan instead of just stopping something yourself? Now, instead, you’re in worse shape than ever and we have to pour MORE pain meds into you just to get you back to where you were, not to mention the time that will take, time that you’re writhing in agony. It doesn’t make sense to me. If anyone knows how tedious and frustrating the side effects of medications are, I do. Seriously. I put on 20kg, was sedated for 4 years, couldn’t work for 2 and I sweat all. the. time!! And that’s just 1/3 of the list. But you don’t just stop your meds because you don’t like them. You go back to your doctor, talk about the problems, work with them to adjust your meds and try again. That’s my experience. And when people come to us having not been bothered to put in that work and short cutting the process, then screaming that they’re in pain which is the obvious outcome, it just doesn’t make sense. They have a lifelong pain problem, surely taking the effort of one doctor’s appointment isn’t too big an investment to make? This especially bugs me for people on insurance and worker’s compensation because those establishments will do anything to help get people back on their feet (and back to work, of course) including paying for doctor’s visits, therapy like physiotherapy, and medications. You just have to be willing to work with them. People do “get over” their condition and the ramifications of it, I get that; so do I! But you’re kind of stuck with it so sometimes you have to dig in and just work through it. Going off course just isn’t going to make it any better.

Another common presentation is asthma attack. That’s not so shocking, except when its because you didn’t bother to take your asthma preventer inhaler for the last 3 months; you “thought you didn’t need it”. What are you thinking now? Are you going to go home and take it now? Did you ever think that maybe you never had an asthma attack BECAUSE you were taking your asthma preventer, rather than that you didn’t have asthma and didn’t need it? Did you ask your GP to review your asthma and maybe check your respiratory function tests again before making changes? No, you thought you knew better. And if you start giving me that big pharma conspiracy rubbish about how GPs diagnose people with asthma and prescribe them asthma preventers to get kickbacks from some drug company, I’ll scream. They did it to save your life; asthma kills! Have you heard of the tragic thunderstorm asthma event of 2011? And that’s just what people hear about. People die all the time of asthma. It’s not just some kids disease, or a disease that doesn’t really matter, or one that can be treated every time it flares up if its been under poor control. That cough you get walking up the stairs? That’s your asthma. That tightness in your chest on a cold morning? That’s your asthma. You don’t have to have an audible wheeze to have symptoms of asthma. Take your preventer, get reviewed regularly by a doctor and you can control your disease. But take it seriously please. And FYI, when the label says take TWICE daily, that means two times, as in morning and night, not once a day. If you use your preventer once a day, it will only be in effect for 12 hours; the other half you are on your own. And if you use your Ventolin/Asmol inhaler more than twice/three times each week? Your asthma is NOT under control!

One of the worst examples of non-compliance is patients saying pure and simply “I didn’t take them”, especially antibiotics. Why did you bother to see a doctor if you then went ahead and ignored their advice? It’s kind of rude. And self-jeopardising. And for those patients who DO go ahead and take the antibiotics, did you know that almost no one actually takes their antibiotics as prescribed? If its prescribed three times a day they take less. If its prescribed for 7 days they take less. And YET, every time antibiotics are dispensed, patients are told how to take their antibiotics, and for how long, and to complete the course. It really is just up to them to take them. There are apps (e.g. NPS Medicine Wise) where you can enter your dose, and duration of antibiotic, and the app will send you a reminder each time you are due for a dose. You can use the alarm clock on your phone to remind you when your dose are due. You can have your pharmacy add the antibiotics to your Webster pack, or you can add them to your dosette box. Really there are a lot of different strategies you can use. But know that when you come into hospital, your pharmacist, and probably your doctor, and maybe the triage nurse will note the date you were prescribed your antibiotics, COUNT how many antibiotics you have left and do the math; it’s what we went to uni for! And non-compliant will be written on your chart. Just take them. Why go from a slight upper respiratory tract infection or small wound, to a full blown lower chest infection and disgusting weeping sore when you could have prevented it? Sometimes conditions progress anyway, but do your part at least. Plus incompletely taking a course of antibiotics, not killing off the bug fully, leads to it learning resistance to that antibiotic so that next time you take that antibiotic it won’t work as well as it should. If you spread that bug that has resistance to someone else, you’re spreading resistance. You really don’t want to be that person. Take them, take them as prescribed, and take all of your antibiotics.

Or there’s that person who hasn’t been bothering to take their cholesterol lowering tablet and is admitted with a myocardial infarction (heart attack) and has to have 3 main vessels in their heart unclogged! All because they thought their cholesterol level was “fine” and they didn’t need it. Did you ask your doctor about that before you committed to that course of action, triple bypass guy?

Or hasn’t been bothering with their blood pressure medication and their systolic blood pressure at the bedside is over 190 when it should be at least under 140 and ideally around 120. They insist that they have white coat hypertension which is where patient’s get nervous before their blood pressure is taken, or around doctors, and it causes their blood pressure to rise. Except it doesn’t ever cause it to rise that much, in-denial lady. Take your blood pressure tablets unless your blood pressure falls below 120, and even then keep taking it unless your doctor advises you not to. Yes your own blood pressure machine might tell you ONCE A DAY that your blood pressure is okay when you’re sitting around relaxed at home. But why did your doctor diagnose you and prescribe you tablets in the first place? So many people are so reluctant to take blood pressure tablets and I don’t know why. In most cases its one tablet once a day and the side effects are usually mild, it’s really not a big deal. And again, its not a big pharma conspiracy to get you to take tablets, it’s a lifesaving prevention strategy to stop you having a heart attack, killing your kidneys or bleeding your brain out…why not take your tablet??

Just take it, or talk to your doctor. Those are the main concepts here. Confusing?

Edit: I’m not perfect. No one is perfectly compliant with their medications. I know that. I miss doses of my tablets, in fact I missed last night’s meds cos I broke my routine. But one thing I don’t do is miss them on purpose. All I’m asking if for people to try to carry out their doctor’s directions, for their own good. I read a quote yesterday,

“No one is perfect. But if we aim for perfect, we might reach wonderful.”

When bloopers aren’t that funny…

This is a follow on piece from the ‘Bloopers’ topic of the other night. One of the bloopers turned sour in a big way, so I thought I should complete the picture. I guess it shouldn’t be a shock that bloopers in healthcare aren’t too funny, mostly. Some are interesting, some awful, and a few hilarious; that’s about how it works out, it seems.

You know that guy I was telling you about, the one with shoulder bursitis? The one whose wife and daughter gave him too much ibuprofen and paracetamol unintentionally, dosing him every 4 hours on the hour for several days due to his excruciating pain without observing the 24 hour maximum doses because they weren’t told about it by their doctor? And obviously they weren’t told about the maximum doses by pharmacy staff either if they bought the medication in a pharmacy, or maybe they bought it from the supermarket; this is my strong argument that these “simple” pain killers not be available from the supermarket. I guess the family never read the packet either, although English as a second language was a factor here for the wife, but not the daughter. This is the patient who was brought into ED after he started coughing up blood as a side effect of ibuprofen which irritates the stomach lining. You’ll remember that the family who wouldn’t give him the stronger pain killer Endone in case he got constipated, but had given him toxic doses of weaker pain killers. The patient who is an example of people being given incomplete advice about how to take their medications, and blindly following that advice without taking any initiative themselves.

Well, he died.

I saw him Saturday, he died early Monday morning. I was shocked when I found out!! I knew what they’d done was bad, and that he was going to suffer the consequences, but I never expected him to die! Not that fast, certainly. I planned on looking up which ward he was in in Monday morning so that I could handover the story to the ward pharmacist, but then it said: DECEASED. I had to read it twice. I thought I’d picked the wrong patient. But no, deceased, 0600 hours, 16-4-2018.

Wow!

So I looked into it. And right there as the cause of death: acute on chronic renal failure precipitated by NSAID use. That’s non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: ibuprofen (Nurofen), diclofenac (Voltaren) etc. Acute on chronic means he had a degree of chronic permanent kidney failure that couldn’t be reversed, not unexpected at 77 yo, but it was made acutely much worse by something, in this case medication.

There are a few things you can do to help reverse acute kidney failure: give IV fluids to flush toxins out, stop all medications that are toxic to the kidneys, manage blood pressure with medication and fluid so that the kidneys have optimal perfusion, but at the end of the day there’s only so much that can be done without the patient going to the intensive care unit and being put on dialysis. Once the kidneys go off, fluid accumulates in the body. This patient already had heart failure which causes fluid to gather around the heart and lungs, and the kidneys failing to clear fluid adds additional pressure on the heart. This was listed as the secondary cause of death: heart failure. In fact 4 causes of death were described in more detail than the overall cause as I’ve put it above, acute on chronic kidney failure precipitated by NSAIDs: kidney failure, heart failure, NSAIDS and age. Once the snowball got kicked off it gathered momentum from pretty much every other medical condition that the patient already had, unsurprising since the whole body is in a delicate balance. But if that trigger hadn’t been there…

In this case because of his age and many other medical conditions, the family did the sensible thing and let things be as they would be; and in this case death is what would be. It’s a shame that kind of common sense thinking hadn’t prevailed any earlier in the case. I feel like this death could be listed as preventable.

If a patient asks me generally whether ibuprofen is good for them, there are several medical conditions I’d want to be sure the patient didn’t have before recommending it: asthma, stomach problems like previous ulcers or gastritis and even reflux, heart failure and kidney failure. So the ibuprofen probably shouldn’t have been started in the first place; a steroidal anti-inflammatory like prednisolone would have been more appropriate. Although sometimes we say cautiously, take it but for no more than x days. Of course we then also tell the patient the maximum dose and how best to take it. In this case I’m pretty sure if you had asked the patient’s cardiologist or nephrologist before hand whether this man should have been given a NSAID they would NEVER have signed off on it.

Then maybe he’d still be here, a bit fuzzy headed or nauseous on Endone, taking paracetamol less regularly than actually happened, and blood sugars high from prednisolone, but alive, his bursitis improving and his life going on at home.

RIP.

I’m sorry the system let you down.