“Drugs don’t work in patients that don’t take them”

By Patrick Lohuis

Surgeon General Dr. Everett C. Koop famously said these wise words.

We’ve all been there—you go to the doctor when you are feeling ill and end up leaving with a prescription. You listen to the doctor's guidance and instructions regarding your medication, nod your head, and head to the pharmacy to pick up your medication. After a couple days following your medication plan, you start to feel better, figure the illness has run its course, and you feel as though you no longer need the medication on a daily basis. This practice, known as medication non-adherence, is a growing concern to clinicians, health systems, and other stakeholders because of the mounting evidence that it leads to adverse outcomes and higher costs of care.


What is Medication Adherence?

Medication adherence, or taking medications correctly, is generally defined as the extent to which patients take medication as prescribed by their provider. This involves factors such as getting prescriptions filled, remembering to take medication on time, and understanding directions. Medication adherence has long been recognized as an important and unaddressed barrier to patient health with studies showing that approximately 50% of patients do not take their chronic medications as prescribed. When these factors are ignored, non-adherence can interfere with the ability to treat many diseases, can affect both quality and length of life, and increase overall health care costs.Infographic on Medication Adherence

Non-adherence can include delaying or not filling a prescription, skipping doses, splitting pills, or stopping medication early. This negligence has been correlated to up to 50% of treatment failures, approximately 125,000 deaths, and nearly 25% of hospitalizations per year in the United States. This impact has been valued at approximately $100 billion annually.

Screen Shot 2021-01-08 at 10.44.33 AMShare these helpful tips with your patients to help them improve their medication adherence:

    • Communicate with your healthcare professional: If medication side effects are bothering you, talk to your doctor or pharmacists about what alternatives there may be to your current medication. Similarly, if you are feeling better after taking your medication, speak with your doctor to discuss options regarding your medication program. With virtual consultations becoming a part of the new standard of care, maintaining regular communication with your doctor has never been more seamless and transparent.

    • Set daily routines to take medication and keep medications where you’ll notice them: It can be helpful to take the medication with normal, daily activities such as eating meals or going to bed. For a medication that should be taken with food, place that medication near the dinner table or wherever you eat on a regular basis. If there are medications you need to take in the morning, put those medications in your bathroom, next to your toothbrush or your deodorant, or something else that you use as part of your morning routine.

    • Keep a written or electronically documented schedule: This can cover the medications you take, how often you take them, and any special directions. Additionally, there are several devices that have been designed to help patients adhere to a prescribed medication schedule. Many providers use telehealth—either through a tablet or mobile app, or through voice calls—to remind patients to take their medications as prescribed.

Support your patients with these important tips: 

    • Make the process patient-friendly: Implement processes that improve adherence including flexible delivery and mail options, alerts that inform when medications are overdue, and 90-day fills. With patients becoming more at ease with virtual care, there are technologies designed to make the process of taking medications a seamless part of a patients daily routine.

    • Emphasize medication review and education: Make sure the patient understands exactly what they are being treated for, when to take the medication, and most importantly emphasizing the benefits (as well as the potential side effects) to taking the medication as prescribed. If applicable, it is also important that the patients loved-ones or caregiver is included in the process as a way of further maintaining transparency and support throughout the journey to health. Telehealth is a great way to bring patients, caregivers, and doctors into this process in a quick and safe way that ensures prompt review and continual education.

    • Leverage technology: Medical professionals can apply technology to remind patients of their medications and lifestyle regimen in order to enhance adherence. By using telehealth you can constantly interact with patients to proactively engage them should they have questions about medications, miss doses or not refill prescriptions. If you are able to proactively engage your patients in various forms of telehealth (virtual visits, medication reminder apps, remote patient monitoring devices) you will see a drastic change in patient behavior and your patients will ultimately be happier.

Positive Change Starts Now!

Maintaining a blame-free environment and providing patients with praise and meaningful education for medication adherence are essential for an effective relationship between patient and practitioner. Asking key questions is imperative for patients in revealing adherence challenges, and empathetic listening will assist practitioners in arriving at patient-centered solutions to overcome these challenges.

As it relates to COVID-19, those with underlying medical conditions (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung and asthma), it is now more important than ever to take medication adherence seriously. Not taking medications as prescribed puts individuals with underlying conditions (ranging anywhere from mild to chronic) at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Maintaining discipline to the medication regiment can prevent the need to go to the hospital due to complications and symptom exacerbations. 

How can telehealth help with COVID-19?

Telehealth has been proven to assist with improving medication adherence. How? By providing patients with the tools they need to change their behavior and engage in their own health.

Come back next week for more on how telehealth and remote patient monitoring can help your patients remain compliant with their care plan and medication regiment.


Tags: Best Practices, disease management, patient behavior, COVID-19, adherence, medication, care plan, Program results

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