Background: Adherence to prescribed regimens is required to derive maximal benefit from many highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) regimens in people living with HIV/AIDS.
Objectives: To conduct a systematic review of the research literature on the effectiveness of patient support and education to improve adherence to HAART.
Search strategy: A systematic search of electronic databases was performed from January 1996 to May 2005.
Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of patient support and education to improve adherence to HAART were considered for inclusion. Only those studies that measured adherence at a minimum of six weeks were included.
Data collection and analysis: Study selection, quality assessments and data abstraction were performed independently by two reviewers.
Main results: Nineteen studies involving a total of 2,159 participants met criteria for inclusion. It was not possible to conduct a meta-analysis due to study heterogeneity with respect to populations, interventions, comparison groups, outcomes, and length of follow-up. Sample sizes ranged from 22 to 367. The populations studied ranged from general HIV-positive populations to studies focusing exclusively on children, women, Latinos, or adults with a history of alcohol dependence, to studies focusing almost exclusively on men. Study interventions included cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, medication management strategies, and interventions indirectly targeting adherence, such as programs directed to reduce risky sexual behaviours. Ten studies demonstrated a beneficial effect of the intervention on adherence. We found that interventions targeting practical medication management skills, those administered to individuals vs groups, and those interventions delivered over 12 weeks or more were associated with improved adherence outcomes. We also found that interventions targeting marginalized populations such as women, Latinos, or patients with a past history of alcoholism were not successful at improving adherence. We were unable to determine whether effective adherence interventions were associated with improved virological or immunological outcomes. Most studies had several methodological shortcomings leaving them vulnerable to potential biases.
Authors' conclusions: We found evidence to support the effectiveness of patient support and education interventions intended to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy. Interventions targeting practical medication management skills, those interventions administered to individuals vs groups, and those interventions delivered over 12 weeks or more were associated with improved adherence outcomes. There is a need for standardization and increased methodological rigour in the conduct of adherence trials.