Metabolic Monitoring in Patients Utilizing Antipsychotics Considerably Lacking

Among insured patients initially prescribed second generation antipsychotics, monitoring of blood sugar and lipid levels falls very short of the 2004 American Diabetes Association (ADA) guidelines, researchers report. The guidelines are based on the considerable evidence that these medications can increase risk for cardiovascular disease by adversely affecting lipid and glucose metabolism as well as body weight.

By 2006, the study showed just over 10% of patients that were newly prescribed second generation antipsychotics received lipid profile monitoring and just over 20% received blood sugar monitoring. These numbers are abysmally low. And what’s to be said for the numbers regarding uninsured patients?

At a 2004 conference, four key organizations – the American Diabetes Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and the North American Association for the Study of Obesity – recommended that all patients receiving these atypical antipsychotics have fasting blood glucose and lipid level determinations at baseline and after 12 weeks of treatment. Younger patients were the least likely to be screened and monitored, before and after the guidelines were issued.

So why aren’t these monitoring guidelines being followed. I’ll venture a couple of answers. First, these drugs are most often prescribed by psychiatrists, and psychiatrists tend not to treat the whole patient. Instead they tend to focus solely on what brought the patient to their office or to the hospital in the first place, such as a manic, psychotic or depressive episode, often overlooking the medical comorbidities in these patients. Second, psychiatrists often don’t have established relationships with primary care physicians for referral purposes. And outside of the initial screening and evaluation, psychiatric appointments are no more than 20 minute med checks. Rarely are “physical” systems issued stemming from the use of certain psychotropic drugs discussed.

When seeing a client for psychotherapy who is using a second generation antipsychotic, I always inquire as to whether or not they have had any glucose, lipid and cholesterol level blood work. If so, I ask them to obtain a copy of the reports for inclusion into my file for this client. If not, or if they can’t remember, I ask that they make an appointment with their primary care physician as soon as possible to have this done. If the client doesn’t have a primary care physician, I assist them with finding one.

I also send the treating psychiatrist a brief note asking that he or she consider the monitoring guidelines recommended for patients prescribed these antipsychotics. And when my client is coming upon a psychiatric visit, I write out a similar note, and give it to them to take along to the appointment. With some clients, I will even do a role play exercise prior to their appointment to help increase their comfort level with broaching this issue.

The bottom line is this: clients need to approach physician appointments with that time honored Boy Scout motto in mind: “Be Prepared.” And we clinicians can help by reminding them that if reasonable requests regarding their care are discounted or ignored, they probably need to transfer their care to someone else.

Joseph Wegmann, R.Ph., LCSW is a licensed clinical pharmacist and a clinical social worker with more than thirty years of experience in the field of psychopharmacology. His diverse professional background in psychopharmacology and counseling affords him a unique perspective on medication management issues. In addition to consulting with numerous psychiatric facilities, he has presented psychopharmacology seminars to thousands of clinicians in 46 states.

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