Medication adherence refers to the extent to which patients take medications as prescribed, refill the prescriptions when needed, and if they continue to take their prescribed medicines over the correct duration of time. The following information will take a look at why medication adherence is so important and provide some tips on how to improve it.

Medication adherence statistics

As we know, taking prescribed medications is vital for managing chronic illnesses and protecting one’s health. Yet, statistics related to medication compliance are sobering at best. Studies have shown that nearly 20 to 30 percent of prescriptions go unfilled, while almost 50 percent of chronic disease medications are not taken as prescribed by a doctor or pharmacist.

According to the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that non-compliance causes treatment to fail in between 30 and 50 percent of patients suffering from chronic illnesses. In turn, this causes roughly 125,000 deaths every year in the United States alone and accounts for at least 10 percent of hospitalizations. For patients prescribed statins (medications to lower cholesterol), somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of those who stop their therapy in the first year increase their risk of dying by 25 percent. In the long run, this places a significant strain on the healthcare system as it costs between $100 and $289 billion each year.

A closer look at what medication adherence means

It’s not hard to see that failing to take medication as prescribed is dangerous, but what exactly does it mean to be adherent? Many factors play a role in medication compliance, such as getting prescriptions filled, taking medicine at the correct time, and following all instructions associated with the medication.

According to the American Medical Association, patients who take 80 percent of their medications are considered adherent. Anyone taking less than this amount is nonadherent. Yet when it comes to long-term forms of therapy, the World Health Organization defines adherence as taking medications properly and making the appropriate lifestyle and diet changes as recommended by a physician or other medical care provider. One example of this is patients who require help with blood pressure control are often advised to take their medicine, consume a heart-healthy diet, exercise regularly, and manage stress properly.

The reasons patients don’t take their medications

There are many reasons patients don’t take recommended medications. One main reason is rising drug costs. Sometimes people are faced with difficult financial choices, such as buying food and paying bills or getting prescriptions filled.

Another issue lies in patients’ trust, or lack thereof, that specific medications actually help them, especially if benefits are not immediately apparent. This is especially true for chronic diseases because drugs don’t usually make the patients feel different or better. So, experts have found that when the prescriptions aren’t something the patient feels, or are coupled with bothersome side effects, it can be difficult for them to remain motivated to take the pills. While the reasons patients don’t take their medications can be complex, this does not mitigate the consequences.

Why is medication adherence so important?

As we briefly discussed, not adhering to medication schedules can be dangerous and lead to the following:

  • Progression of the disease. Disease progression refers to how an illness affects a person from its early stages to its peak, and finally to its resolution. When a chronic disease is present, it will progress, and medications are usually helpful for slowing this progression. Yet nearly one in three patients suffering from a long-term disease fail to consume their medications. When this occurs, illness progression cannot be slowed.
  • Increase in the risk of life-threatening complications. Depending on the specific illness, a terrifying consequence is being at a higher risk of having a life-threatening complication. For example, any blood pressure patients go to the emergency room each year with organ damage caused by not taking the proper medication.
  • More hospital and ED visits. Medication nonadherence can lead to unnecessary hospital and emergency department visits, along with avoidable healthcare costs.

Tips to help improve medication adherence

Now that we’ve discussed why it’s so important that people take medications as directed, let’s discuss some ways to help improve upon this.

  • Encourage patients to maintain a schedule where they take the medication at the same time each day.
  • Recommend patients add medications into an already present daily schedule. Some find that taking it at bedtime before brushing their teeth works well, while others choose to take it before/after mealtimes. Just be sure they read the medication instructions and verify if it should be taken on an empty or full stomach.
  • Encourage patients to use a pill organizer. Some of these containers even have compartments for different times of the day, such as morning, lunch, and night. Encourage them to fill the container the same day every week. For example, do it after breakfast every Sunday morning.
  • The Community Wellness MyWellness Connect™ app is a great tool that reminds patients which medication to take and when. It can be programmed to end when the prescription is completed or set indefinitely if the patient has a long-term medication for chronic illness.
  • Remind patients to bring plenty of medicine for each day when traveling, along with enough for a few extra days just in case the trip gets extended. Additionally, when flying, remind them to keep all prescriptions in a carry-on bag to prevent them from going missing with lost luggage. The cargo hold temperatures can also damage certain medications.

In the end, it’s essential for your patients to understand that medication adherence is vital for their health and well-being. Regardless of how they maintain a regular schedule for taking their medicines, the important thing is that they take all medications as prescribed. This is especially true for those suffering from chronic diseases, as this is the only way to slow the progression of illness to ensure they live a longer, healthier life free of life-threatening complications.