A little more than a month ago, Dr. Dylan Steen, director of clinical trials and population health research at the University of Cincinnati Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease, co-presented a scientific paper at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in London about the efficacy of statins in controlling cholesterol in high-risk patients.
Among Steen’s findings were that statin utilization among patients with coronary heart disease, peripheral artery disease, ischemic stroke, type 2 diabetes and other conditions that raise the risk of heart attack was unacceptably low, particularly in the U.S.
“It’s less routine that it should be, ” Steen said in an interview with MedCity News this week. “The most important drugs ever developed for heart patients are not being used as often as they should, ” Steen said.
Much of the failure for medication adherence falls on physicians, but patient education and even telemedicine can help. “There’s an opportunity here to forge a better relationship and make more connections with patients, ” Steen said.
According to Steen, patients want to do the right things to better themselves, but they often have poor understanding of the benefits of maintenance drugs. “If someone feels better, they think they’re at lower risk, ” Steen said, so they stop taking their meds.
“They don’t really feel the [true] effects of the medicine” on LDL cholesterol and other risk factors, ” he said, so they slip back into unhealthy habits. “It’s the same way your blood doesn’t feel bad after you eat a Big Mac.”
It is up to the medical community to debunk rumors and misinformation. One known side effect of statins is mild muscle pain, Steen said, but many think the drugs do more harm than good. “It’s been really blown out of proportion, ” he said, in much the same way that a few debunked studies have fueled the rise of the anti-vax movement and brought a resurgence of measles.
“There’s a lot of garbage data out there, ” according to Steen. “Patients have a poor understanding of the benefits” of many medications and vaccines.
They also have been trained at an early age to make unhealthy lifestyle choices in terms of nutrition and exercise. Telling someone to take a statin and to change their habits without proper education is “like giving someone a car with 500, 000 miles on it and not being able to get new parts, ” Steen said. “So much damage has already been done.”