Study quantifies healthcare costs for medication adherence and non-adherence

Medication adherence has been a vexing issue in healthcare delivery, and a new study shows there is a distinct cost associated with either taking or not taking your medicine properly.

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Managed Care, examined more than 857,000 patients undergoing more than 1.2 million distinct therapies. The patients were mostly being treated for common chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. They were initially studied between April 2011 and 2012 with a follow-up period between April 2012 and March 2013.

Among those patients who adhered to their prescription schedules, those who had diabetes among multiple medical conditions saved $5,341 annually in medical costs; those who had hypertension among multiple medical conditions saved $4,423, while those who had high cholesterol among multiple medical conditions saved $2,081.

Patients who became non-adherent were more expensive to treat than the savings they had generated when they took the medication as prescribed. Diabetes patients without multiple medical conditions cost $2,495 less to treat in the year they became adherent but cost $2,763 more to treat if they were non-adherent. Among those patients with hypertension, costs were cut by $766 if they became adherent, but rose by $2,663 if they were non-adherent. Patients with high cholesterol cut costs by $26 a year if they became adherent, but costs rose by $1,526 if they became non-adherent.

Moreover, patients with multiple medical conditions who had become non-adherent during the follow-up portion of the study had even higher costs. Diabetes patients with multiple conditions cost $4,653 more to treat; $7,946 more among those with hypertension and at least two other conditions, and $4,008 among those with high cholesterol and at least two other conditions.

The study tends to confirm a 2012 study that concluded lack of medication adherence costs the healthcare system more than $317 billion in related costs. Healthcare organizations have been using techniques such as texting to try and increase adherence, and even advanced biometrics to monitor pediatric patients with complex medication needs.