Older Adults and Drug Decisions: Collaboration and Outcomes

Betsy Sleath, Ph.D., Principal Investigator

Betty Chewning, Ph.D., U. Wisconsin-Madison, Co-Principal Investigator

Morris Weinberger, Ph.D, Co-Investigator

Brenda Devellis, Ph.D., Co-Investigator

Bob Devellis, Ph.D., Co-Investigator

Gail Tudor, Ph.D., Co-Investigator

Mary Anne Dooley, M.D., Co-Investigator

A research team from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Pharmacy and Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research will share a grant with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to develop new technologies that improve physician-patient communication for older adults with chronic conditions. Betsy Sleath, Ph.D., associate professor in the division of Pharmaceutical Policy and Evaluative Sciences at the School of Pharmacy, is co-principal investigator and site principal investigator at UNC for the $1.9 million, 4-year grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). The project is a collaborative effort with University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy faculty based on the shared expertise of faculty at both universities in the areas of arthritis management and doctor-patient communications.

The project focuses on elderly patients with rheumatoid arthritis who may have difficulty communicating their wants and opinions to their doctor. The technology is an easy to use hand-held computer that asks patients questions about their medication and treatment plan. The answers are then shared with the patient and doctor in an effort to empower the patient and improve doctor understanding of patient concerns. “Some of my prior work has found that older patients-and not all of them-are more likely to accept what the doctor says and not ask questions. We picked arthritis because it’s a chronic disease that sometimes can be hard to manage and people want better quality of life,” says Sleath. UNC researchers will enroll approximately 300 patients who are 60 years of age or greater. Pilot testing begins in February 2003, and patients start enrolling in March.

Sleath’s colleagues at UNC are co-investigators Morris Weinberger, Ph.D, Brenda Devellis, Ph.D., Bob Devellis, Ph.D., and Gail Tudor, Ph.D., of the UNC School of Public Health, and Mary Anne Dooley,M.D., of the UNC School of Medicine. At Wisconsin-Madison, Betty Chewning, Ph.D., is the principal investigator. The team envisions opportunities to adapt the technology to other areas of healthcare. The hand held computer has been used in clinics across the United States to gauge patient care satisfaction, but this project will focus on opportunities to use the technology to improve physician-patient communications specifically.