Making prescription drugs safer with health IT: Medication adherence

Medication adherence is a difficult and complicated problem facing health professionals. Doctors administer millions of prescription pills and other treatments which are eventually taken away from the hospital or doctors office. Patients hold a considerable amount of responsibility in following a treatment plan, and unfortunately, there is evidence that issues with medication adherence are substantial.

By better understanding what barriers or discrepancies exist, health professionals may be able to support patients in reducing the risks that come with incorrectly taking medication. The use of digital platforms may be a key tool in this effort.

The problem
Millions of Americans regularly take at least one medication on a daily basis, with a good proportion of the population prescribed multiple treatments. Many more receive drugs after a surgery, hospitalization or other events. All told, the U.S. Centers for Drug Control and Prevention found that the industry prescribes billions of drugs every year.

Following a prescription or treatment plan is sometimes difficult for patients. The American Heart Association reported that improper medication adherence is responsible for 125,000 deaths in this country each year and adds an extra $300 billion in healthcare expenses.

Many drugs can have negative reactions to other medication, over-the-counter vitamins and supplements and even certain types of food. And independent of these complications, following a prescription plan incorrectly and taking inappropriate dosages can also lead to more serious health concerns.

Moving beyond education
Addressing the risks that come with prescription drugs is a complicated problem. In a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers concluded that education specific to medication increased overall knowledge among patients but did not coincide with meaningful improvements in adherence. That means that a lack of information or misinformation may not be to blame.

The AHA found forgetfulness was a key barrier toward proper medication adherence. Likewise, difficulty taking a drug like an at-home injection is also a key problem for patients. The AHA also cited issues related to price and a perceived lack of effectiveness.

Simple solutions
Improved engagement through the use of digital platforms has shown promise in bolstering medication adherence. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, active patient portal use was linked to improved medication adherence. Patients using an online system were more reliable in filling a prescription than those who did not have access to the same portal. 

Other studies have found patient portals and other digital tools are beneficial. Beyond filling a prescription in an efficient and reliable way, access to physician notes and correspondence through email can also improve medication adherence among patients. Remotely accessible electronic health records software represents a powerful resource for addressing this issue because information was more clear and accessible. In this way, physicians can support patients in taking greater responsibility and a more proactive approach toward staying healthy.

Many third-party applications that run on mobile devices and provide daily reminders and schedules are also useful tools in supporting responsible drug use and can be used in conjuncture with a physician patient portal. The AHA stated that SMS reminders from a physician are also instrumental in providing the right kind of help and guidance. 

Physicians should work with patients to explain all possible risks associated with a medication and give clear direction and insight. Educational resources shared online through email may also be helpful, especially those that reinforce the importance of medication adherence. Providers should bolster this information with platforms that make it as simple as possible for patients to understand a treatment plan, follow a schedule and ask any questions and field concerns. 

Kevin McCarthy's picture

Kevin McCarthy

Industry News Editor

An avid traveler and news junkie, Kevin covers a range of topics from healthcare technology to policy and regulations. As a former journalism student, he enjoys finding stories relevant to small practices and is passionate about keeping them informed. Before joining NueMD, Kevin worked for Turner Broadcasting as a Programming Intern where he conducted legal research and contributed to editorial content development. He received his bachelor's degree in Communication from Kennesaw State University and currently serves as the Industry News Editor at NueMD.

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles