Background: Poor adherence to treatment is difficult to diagnose accurately. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) has a long elimination half-life and its concentration in whole blood can be measured easily.
Objective: To evaluate the utility of a very low blood HCQ concentration as a marker of poor compliance in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Methods: HCQ concentrations were determined on a blinded basis in 203 unselected patients with SLE. At the end of the study, the patients were informed of the results and retrospectively interviewed about their adherence to treatment.
Results: 14 (7%) patients said that they had stopped taking HCQ (n = 8) or had taken it no more than once or twice a week (n = 6). Their mean (SD) HCQ concentration was 26 (46) ng/ml. range (0-129 ng/ml) By contrast, the other patients had a mean HCQ concentration of 1079 ng/ml range (205-2629 ng/ml). The principal barriers to adherence were related to HCQ treatment characteristics. Adherence subsequently improved in 10 of the 12 patients whose blood HCQ concentrations were remeasured.
Conclusions: Very low whole-blood HCQ concentrations are an objective marker of prolonged poor compliance in patients with SLE. Regular drug assays might help doctors in detect non-compliance and serve as a basis for counselling and supporting these patients.