3 ways to improve patients’ medication adherence

Pills in blisters
Doctors may need to probe the reasons why patients don't take the pills prescribed for them. (Shutterstock)

Getting patients with chronic illnesses to take their prescribed medications so they stay well can be a big challenge for doctors.

There are many reasons why an estimated 80% of patients with chronic conditions don’t stick to their care management plans, including medication regimens, according to PatientEngagementHIT. Patients don’t take their medication because they forget, can’t afford the prescription or are afraid of side effects.

The cost of nonadherence was clear in a report released today by pharmacy benefits management company Express Scripts. Commercially insured people who were adherent to their oral diabetes medications had significantly fewer emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations and potentially avoided more than $210 million in healthcare spending in 2016, according to the report, which looked at adherence to diabetes medications.


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Perhaps surprisingly, the report found young adults are significantly less likely than older patients to take their diabetes medications, the report said. Among people aged 20-44, just under half were adherent to their oral diabetes medications in 2016.

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So what can doctors do to remove barriers and improve medication adherence?

Identify the problem. Start by talking to patients about why are not using their medication and then come up with a plan to overcome those barriers. As providers continue to focus on value-based care, it will be important for them to guide patients. A 2012 study concluded lack of medication adherence costs the healthcare system more than $317 billion in related costs.

RELATED: A patient-centered approach to medication adherence

Use reminders, including new technology to get patients to take their medications. For example, there are self-management apps that can serve as reminders, sending patients text messages. Fit the solution to the patient. For some patients, sticky notes and pill boxes can work to get them to take their medications.

Help patients cut costs. “Patients don’t always like to admit that they’re having trouble with payments,” David Weinstock, M.D., a primary care provider at Grove Medical Associates in Auburn, Massachusetts, told the publication. Medication subsidies, such as through Medicare Part D, can help patients afford their prescriptions.

Clinicians and care managers may be able to find more ways to reduce patient co-pays. Keep in mind that patients may be embarrassed to admit that they are having trouble with payments, so doctors may need to use their communication skills to get patients to discuss money challenges.

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