A Tale of Two Patients: Patient-Centered Approaches to Adherence as a Gateway to Reducing Disparities

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The disparate effects of social determinants of health on cardiovascular health status and health care have been extensively documented by epidemiology. Yet, very little attention has been paid to how understanding and addressing social determinants of health might improve the quality of clinical interactions, especially by improving patients’ adherence to recommended therapies. We present a case and suggested approach to illustrate how cardiovascular clinicians can use patient-centered approaches to identify and address social determinants of health barriers to adherence and reduce the impact of unconscious clinician biases. We propose that cardiovascular clinicians (1) recognize that patients may have different belief systems about illnesses’ cause and treatment, which may influence their actions, and not assume they share one’s experiences or explanatory model; (2) Endeavor to understand the individual patient before you; (3) based on that understanding, tailor your approach to that individual. We suggest a previously-developed mnemonic for an approach to RESPECT the patient: First, show Respect; then elicit patients’ understandings of their illness by asking about their Explanatory model. Ask about the patient’s Social context, share Power in the interaction, show Empathy, ask about Concerns or fears, and work to develop Trust by building the relationship over time. We provide additional clinical resources to support these efforts, including lay descriptions of cardiovascular conditions, challenges to adherence, and suggested strategies to address them.

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