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Roche launches first proactive patient helpline

Published on 28/10/03 at 04:39pm

Roche and health call-centre specialists International SOS have launched the UK's first ever helpline to proactively support patients to keep taking their prescription.

Patients prescribed Roche's obesity treatment Xenical will be able to call in for assistance, but in the first service of its kind, patients will also be called regularly by trained healthcare professionals offering support and advice.

First pioneered in Australia, the companies launched the UK service in February and have now enrolled 5,000 patients, representing around 20% of all Xenical patients.

Despite receiving NICE approval in 2001, Xenical and Abbott's rival anti-obesity drug Reductil have failed to catch on with sceptical GPs unconvinced of the product's clinical and cost-effectiveness.

Roche and International SOS say the unrealistic expectations of some patients has been one of the chief reasons for poor compliance with instructions, and have tailored the programme to allow patients and GPs to make the most of Xenical.

Patients are referred to the service by their GPs, consultants or pharmacists and register by calling a freephone number and reading out the serial number on their medicine packaging. A call handler then takes some basic details including current body mass and height, and weight loss target and discusses how quickly the patient can expect to see results, advising on changes to diet and exercise levels.

Kate Reid, Senior Product Manager from Roche Products, says: "It became clear to us that certain types of drugs worked much better if you offered a heightened level of support".

She says the service is a natural extension of the care given to patients on clinical trials programmes.

"When you are testing a drug you monitor its effects on the patient, but also maintain an increased level of patient support to ensure that the patient is comfortable - physically and mentally - with their medication. Once the drug completes its test phase and goes to market, this level of support ceases. The question in our minds was -should it?".

Alan Blaskett, Group Marketing Director, Patient Compliance at International SOS, says patients are often looking for encouragement and moral support in addition to medical advice from the 12-strong team of nutritionists and nurses, and adds the service is already making a significant difference.

"The increase in patient contact means that more patients are getting the support they need at key stages of their treatment, which is resulting in higher levels of patient compliance and patient satisfaction", says Alan "The average duration of patient treatment has more than doubled and patient satisfaction with the programme is currently rated at over 85%".

Early figures indicating that most of the telephone service users are women, suggest that men are more reluctant to use the medium.

Kate says: "I think logically our next step might be to create, with the help of International SOS, a more e-mail-focused service for male users experiencing problems. Men tend to look to the web for health advice, while women use it more as a research tool".

The scheme has won the backing of the Government's Medicines Partnership initiative but is otherwise pioneering unchartered territory, with no regulations currently existing to regulate the practice.

The programme abides by the pharmaceutical industry Code of Practice as no medicine is promoted to the patient, but does allow International SOS to send enrolled patients extra support materials through the post on behalf of Roche.

Newly updated guidance on the use of obesity drugs from the Royal College of Practitioners reinforces similar NICE recommendations, stressing that "there is little point in continuing drug treatment" unless patients make changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Obesity has become one of the single biggest health problems in the UK, where 55% of the population is either overweight or obese.

International SOS says its service can be useful for any product where patient compliance plays a significant role in the success of the treatment, and already runs a number of similar services including helping patients titrate their hypertension medicine.

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