4 Ways to Address Medication Adherence

Non adherence to medication can cost time, money, and a patient's health. 

According to the American Medical Association, a patient is considered adherent when they take 80 percent of their prescribed medications. The AMA states that many physicians are surprised to learn the following: 

  • Patients do not take their medication half of the time
  • Approx. a quarter of new prescriptions are never filled
  • Most patients who decide not to fill a prescription or take a medicine will not tell their doctor

Non adherence is dangerous because providers cannot get  a clear understanding of what's really going on with their patients. It costs physicians time and money to treat an illness with stronger prescriptions when there's no knowledge that the prescription is not being taken. 

Here are 4 ways to address medication adherence with your patients: 

1. Know why your patients might avoid their medication

One way to circumvent non adherence is to understand common reasons why your patients might avoid taking their medication.Try to look at treatment from a patient's point of view.

According to AMA, reasons that patients commonly avoid taking medication are due to: 

  • Fear, worry, or mistrust
  • Lack of symptoms
  • Depression 
  • Cost
  • Number of medications

Discuss this information with your team. Identifying signs of non adherence should become part of patient care. 

2. Maintain a positive attitude when asking about non adherence

In a recent AMA article, the authors outline why medication non adherence is a growing concern among physicians and healthcare systems. Non adherence can lead to harm to patients, increased cost of care, or unnecessary, time consuming treatments. 

In the article, Marie T. Brown, M.D., asserts that “many physicians feel that they have completed their duty–their responsibility to the patient–by prescribing the appropriate medicine[...]”. However, a physician should also inquire about non adherence. Dr. Brown argues that asking your patient if they take their medicine is just as important as how you ask them.

“Phrase the questions so that the patient can answer affirmatively,” says Dr. Brown. “Frame it so that it’s okay for them to tell you what they’re doing.” Patients who aren’t taking their medication are more likely to be honest when they do not feel blamed.

She argues that instead of saying... "Why aren't you taking the medication I've prescribed?"

Try saying... "A lot of people have trouble taking this medication regularly. Has this been the case for you?"

According to Dr. Brown, creating a 'blame-free' environment prevents frustration over noncompliance and allows physicians to make better judgements. 

3. Account for your patient's belief system

According to this Deloitte survey, medication adherence is related to a consumer's overall attitudes about the healthcare system, wellness, and their willingness to engage with digital tools. Most patients avoid taking their medication because of their personal, long-held beliefs. 

When educating your patients on the importance of medication adherence, consider “...where they are in their ‘journey’ with a disease and condition, their beliefs and interests, and their specific needs.”

According to Deloitte, think about your patient’s perceptions, behaviors, and attitudes when discussing medication.

4. Develop a patient-centered approach to combating non adherence

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, evidence shows that adopting a patient-centered approach to medication usage leads to better clinical outcomes. The article highlights the challenges associated with medical non adherence and states that "because each person has unique health needs, it is essential for us to engage patients in their health and healthcare by asking what challenges they face." 

Here are ways to discuss medication adherence with patients: 

  • Discuss why a particular medication is needed
  • Talk about the patient's long term and short term goals
  • Discuss common side effects 

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Celia Fisher's picture

Celia Fisher is a content creator and graphic designer in Smyrna, GA. She holds a B.A. in New Media Arts from Kennesaw State University. Celia enjoys taking on passion projects, developing passive income strategies, and spending too much money on plants.

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