@WHCC Novartis CEO: Tech can't solve compliance issue

By Brian Dolan
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Daniel VasellaNovartis CEO and Chairman Daniel Vasella said that technology solutions do not do an adequate job of solving the medical adherence and compliance problem that faces the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

Internet programs that provide feedback loops to patients, instruments that can measure biometrics and transmit the data to caregivers, and new pill bottles that can remind you (by text message or blinking lights) to take your medications are not enough, Vasella declared during his keynote at the World Health Care Congress in Washington D.C. this morning.

"These solutions are all fine and good, but I do not believe these technical approaches will solve the equation," Vasella said. "People are not just machines. People are human beings with social, biological and psychological aspects that need to be addressed" if these solutions are to be effective.

During the Q&A period following Vasella's presentation, he agreed that one key to the problem is teaching physicians to do a better job of listening to patients who are experiencing side effects from their medications. 

"Doctors say... 'Just do what I tell you' and patients say... 'This drug makes me feel sick,'" Peter Salgo, host of PBS' Second Opinion program, said during the keynote panel discussion this morning. "That's a lack of communication on the part of the physician community... Physicians need to do a better job of communicating why they want a patient to do something."

Then there is the financial concern: Vasella noted that some patients simply cannot afford a medication so they are already discouraged from following regimens even before they begin.

Unfortunately, neither Vasella nor Salgo offered much in the way of solutions that do address the three challenges to medical compliance that Vasella outlined. Teaching doctors to better explain the "why" of regimens is a lofty aim. Working toward more affordable meds is another. Neither, even when put together, address medical compliance issues in full.

Clearly the medical compliance issue is larger than simply encouraging patients to remember to take their medications. It's hard to disagree with Vasella that people have social, biological and psychological challenges that few if any of the text-message based medical compliance monitoring solutions we've written about in the past help to overcome. They do help people remember though and in many cases they allow third parties to keep tabs. That's one biological challenge (forgetfulness) and one social challenge (pressure from caregivers to take care of oneself) text message medication reminders address.