'Behavioral economics' may improve medication adherence efforts

'Behavioral economics" may hold the key to medication adherence, according to an article in the Washington Post.

The newspaper examined ongoing public and private sector initiatives to get patients to adhere to their doctor's medication instructions. Patients who don't follow the advice of their providers cause a significant amount of waste in the industry, accounting for 13 percent of overall healthcare spending. Indeed, up to $289 billion is spent annually on unnecessary hospitalizations, emergency room visits and other costs for people who don't follow their medication regimens, according to the Post.

Although improving adherence is a major priority for healthcare providers, the efforts do not focus enough on what works best for patients, some have argued.

But one adherence initiative that incorporates behavioral economics shows promise, the newspaper reports. Patients who take part in the University of Pennsylvania initiative are eligible to win a small lottery of prizes worth $5 to $50 if they take their medications properly. The cap on an electronic pill bottle alerts patients if they forget to take their medication. If that doesn't work, a designated person is notified to remind them to take the prescription. 

Full results aren't yet in but preliminary study data suggest a large improvement in adherence when compared with other efforts involving similar patient populations, David Asch, director of the Center for Health Care Innovation at the university's medical school, told the Post. "We designed it with the foibles of human nature in mind, not with the rational person in mind," he said. "Because the rational person would have been taking their meds in the first place."

To learn more:
- read the article

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