Medication adherence is more than a buzzword in the healthcare community—it’s a critical figure at the forefront of the industry. And one of today’s most expensive public health problems.

Right now, medication adherence rates are abysmal in the United States, with over half of Americans not taking their medications as prescribed by their doctors. Since most people with chronic conditions need to take medication regularly for prolonged periods of time, this is an alarming statistic.

This guide will explain medication adherence, why it’s essential, and the challenges that bring percentages down. Whether you’re a patient with chronic illness or a provider trying to manage your patients’ health, this guide will offer steps toward improving medication adherence and what to look forward to in 2022.

Medication adherence defined

The CDC defines medication adherence as “the extent to which an individual’s behavior, including taking medications, corresponds to recommendations from a health care provider.” Unfortunately, medication non-adherence is much more common.

Studies have shown that nearly a quarter of all patients prescribed medication never refill their meds or follow their treatment plan. This is dangerous and costly for patients who could end up in the hospital or require extensive treatment down the line.

There are many reasons why patients may not take medications prescribed to them correctly, which we’ll get into later.

Statistics on medication adherence

Shocking statistics regarding medication adherence, or non-adherence, show just how serious it is that we find ways to increase adherence across the board.

  • Over 110,000 people die prematurely each year due to medication non-adherence.
  • The medication adherence market is expected to double in costs to $6 billion in the next five years.
  • Although cost is not the main factor for poor medication adherence, it’s said that over 1.1 million Medicare patients will die over the next decade due to being unable to afford their medications.
  • In a meta-analysis of mental health disorders, it was discovered that 49% of patients with major psychiatric disorders were non-adherent to the medication used to treat their disorders.
  • It’s believed that 20% of Medicare patient hospital readmittance after 30 days results from medication adherence.

These are just a tiny glimpse into the severity of medication non-adherence and how it affects all aspects of the healthcare industry. But why is it such a large percentage of issues? Let’s find out.

What challenges keep people from adhering to medication?

There are many reasons why a patient might not adhere to the medication prescribed to them, and it may not be what you think.

Simply forgetting is the #1 culprit of medication non-adherence

That’s right—up to 63% of all medication non-adherence is due to people just forgetting to fill or take prescriptions as required.

Some ways to combat this include using automatic pill dispensers, mobile reminders, alarms, and more streamlined communication with providers. In addition, patients with memory issues such as Alzheimer’s will struggle the most with remembering to take their meds. With such chronic conditions, providers must take a more active role in ensuring medication adherence. The Ōmcare Home Health Hub is one way to help ensure they take their meds on time.

Patients can’t afford ongoing medication

Unfortunately, both healthcare and medication costs are on the rise. Insurance doesn’t always offset the costs of meds, which leads to high out-of-pocket costs for patients. Those with chronic conditions and multiple medications end up drowning in the costs and often stop filling medications.

A recent study discovered a direct link between discontinuing Type 2 Diabetes treatments and switching to high deductible plans. Many employers or single beneficiaries will get high-deductible plans that cost less upfront but offer far fewer benefits to patients. What saves money on the premiums costs more on things like prescription coverage.

Too many adverse side effects, so they stop altogether

It’s well known that many prescriptions come with a risk of side effects depending on the person and what other meds they take. Oftentimes, when patients experience severe side effects, they adjust their meds on their own or stop taking them altogether.

That lack of medication adherence temporarily stops side effects but can increase the risk of long-term effects.

Can’t manage multiple prescriptions

Having multiple prescriptions, also called polypharmacy, presents the challenge of managing various doses, costs, schedules, and refills. This can be extremely overwhelming for someone who doesn’t have help in the form of a caregiver, pill dispenser, or subscription service. In addition, people with chronic illnesses take multiple meds that, if not taken correctly, may interact negatively with each other.

multiple prescriptions

Limited health literacy

Nearly 36% of people in America have very little health literacy. This means that they don’t possess a good understanding of their health plan or healthcare in general, and thus cannot make educated decisions about their bodies.

Lack of knowledge of one’s own healthcare plan is a leading cause of medication non-adherence. It could be remedied with more accessibility to providers or information regarding their meds. Encourage people to use their pharmacist as a resource and ask for a consult whenever they need it (even if the medication isn’t new to them).

Tips for improving medication adherence

Improving medication adherence largely relies on physicians and pharmacists. But there are some ways that both providers and patients can work toward improving adherence, especially by utilizing current technologies to make it easier.

Fully understand the reasons for patient non-adherence

Providers should understand that medication non-adherence is a complex issue and not the fault of patients. They may be having trouble paying for medications or battling side effects. The provider needs to make sure they’ve given good care, communicated well with the patient about their condition and treatment options, and if there are other factors at play like health literacy or side effects, those should be addressed as well.

Patients need to do their part by understanding these reasons and working with providers to make sure they’ve gotten the best care possible.

Make treatment plans easy to understand and follow through on

Patients should be able to easily understand their treatment plan, especially if they have a chronic condition that requires medication adherence above all else. This means working with providers from start to finish to make sure patients can follow through on their prescribed care by prescribing them meds that are right for their condition and helping them find ways to afford those meds if they’re having trouble.

Patients should have no question of what medications interact badly with each other, how often they need to take the medication, etc., so there aren’t any surprises when it comes time to pick up prescriptions or refill. This will make it easier to follow through, and if there are any problems or concerns about the medications, they can be communicated easily.

Streamline communication and education

Today, patients and doctors have the ability to be in communication much more frequently and easily. Whether through email, phone calls, or their patient portal, patients should feel comfortable reaching out with questions before making decisions on their own accord.

Medication Adherence

Embrace healthcare mobile apps

In addition to patient portals, healthcare mobile apps can help connect the dots of otherwise complex communication with providers. Apps can send appointment reminders, allow for easy chatting with pharmacists, nurses, or doctors, and make medication management more accessible than ever.

Utilize automatic pill dispensers and delivery

When a patient doesn’t have to worry about refilling prescriptions, picking them up at the pharmacy, and setting reminders to take them—that immediately increases their chance of adhering to medications.

Ōmcare effectively assists patients with chronic conditions to manage and taking their meds accurately and consistently. To learn more about how you or your loved ones can increase medication adherence with our health hub, reach out today!