Skipped doses or mistimed administration of a medication don’t allow them to work at their full potential.

When it comes to atrial fibrillation, a common condition involving an irregular heartbeat, adherence to a medication schedule plays an integral role in keeping patients healthy, especially for those undergoing oral anticoagulant (OAC) therapy.

“Taking the medicine properly and at the right times is very important,” says Dr. Jason Andrade, a cardiologist with the University of British Columbia and the Montréal Heart Institute. “These types of drugs prevent the blood from thickening in order to avoid the potential formation of blood clots and, subsequently, the incidence of strokes.”

Strokes are a serious, life-threatening risk for atrial fibrillation patients. They are twice as likely to be fatal for these patients, and have the potential of being recurring and disabling. These facts underscore the importance of OAC medications being used in accordance with a physician’s instructions.

"Research also found that 30 percent of those participating in the study were not following the prescribed schedule."

A new study

According to a recent study co-authored by Dr. Andrade that was published by the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in September 2015, compliance was an issue with as many as 30 percent of patients prescribed a pill that was designed to be taken twice-a-day, as patients were skipping one or two doses in a week. That data is concerning because it means a full dose is shortchanged by as much as 15 percent. That’s enough to potentially cause a negative impact on a drug’s efficacy and put patients at risk.

Research also found that 30 percent of those participating in the study were not following the prescribed schedule. However, atrial fibrillation patients who took a once-a-day pill had better overall compliance when compared to those using a twice-a-day medication. Single-dose users were also less likely to consider cessation of their treatment.

In addition, the study’s findings showed that patients and doctors have different priorities when it comes to taking and prescribing medications.Patients ranked dosing frequency low when choosing from medication attributes provided on a list. Dr. Andrade sees potential for improving compliance based on this information.

The ultimate goal

“Ultimately the goal is to educate physicians on the best way to engage patients in their own treatment,” says Dr. Andrade, “and to ensure that they take the medications that have been proven to be helpful for their condition. Part of that is to gather information and see where the discrepancies lie. We can use that information to enhance our abilities to prescribe medications effectively.”

Some estimates say that the incidence of atrial fibrillation in Canada is up 4.5 percent a year. The lifetime risk is calculated at 25 percent among those over the age of 40. Its prevalence emphasizes the need for proper treatment and the right medications taken at the right time. Primary care physicians play a major role in both atrial fibrillation’s identification and management. With proper care of their condition, there’s no reason why patients can’t live full, robust lives.