Rethinking nonadherence: Historical perspectives on triple-drug therapy for HIV disease
The advent of triple-drug therapy for HIV disease has raised the concern that disadvantaged patients with multiple social problems may be nonadherent to treatment. Fearing that partial adherence will lead to drug resistance, some clinicians are withholding these powerful new drugs from such patients. The historical record demonstrates that labeling patients as nonadherent may be both stigmatizing and inaccurate. Since 1900, such adjectives as ignorant, vicious, and recalcitrant have been used to describe patients who do not follow medical advice. Less judgmental terms, such as nonadherent and noncompliant, are now used, but these terms still imply that patients should obey physician-imposed regimens. Studies of nonadherence have consistently shown that the problem is widespread among all persons and cannot reliably be predicted on the basis of patient characteristics. This paper argues that physicians should deemphasize the standard approach of predicting and correcting nonadherent behavior in certain patients. Rather, clinicians should encourage all HIV-positive patients to devise individualized treatment plans that can facilitate reliable ingestion of medication. Although the potential development of resistance to triple-drug therapy remains an important public health issue, concern about this possibility must be balanced with respect for patients' rights. Encouraging the active participation of HIV-positive persons in their own treatment will help avoid judgmental and inaccurate assessments of patient behavior and may help patients take medications more successfully.