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How to Improve Patient Adherence

By Tim Callahan29 Jun 2020

There are many reasons you may have decided to pursue a career in medicine. But if you’re like most medical professionals, you want to help patients live their healthiest life. You strive to create care plans that help return your patients to their best health or, at least, manage their chronic conditions.GettyImages-1156352527

Because your patients’ well-being is your primary concern, it can be frustrating when they refuse to adhere to your prescribed treatment, especially because, as you know, the results can be devastating.

The Consequences of Non-Adherence

In the U.S., patients who do not adhere to treatment or take their prescribed medications half-heartedly account for 275,000 deaths annually, according to data shared by the Pharmacy Times.

Patients who fail to follow their care plans also drive up medical costs by as much as half a trillion dollars per year, according to the same article.

For physicians and other healthcare professionals on the front lines of patient care, improving medication adherence is mission-critical. Failure to adhere to a medication regimen, or to follow instructions precisely, leads to treatment failure, adverse reactions, hospital readmissions, and even death. 

Finding ways to improve patient adherence can be difficult, but there are a few things you can do to help improve their outcomes. 

What Keeps Patients from Adhering to Medication Instructions?

There are many different reasons why patients don’t take their medication: 

  • They’re forgetful
  • They can’t afford the prescription
  • They feel uncomfortable due to stigmas associated with certain medication

Unfortunately, it’s challenging to determine the cause as most patients aren’t forthcoming about their reason for their lack of adherence. It’s up to you to uncover those barriers and find a way through.

How to Increase Patient Adherence to Medication and Treatment Plans

Like you, your patients lead busy lives and self-care — even management of a potentially life-threatening condition — often takes a backseat. 

In this case, patient communication is key to dismantling the barriers to adherence.

Here are a few examples of how you can use communication to bolster adherence rates: 

      • Use Active Listening
        While you likely make a habit of listening to your patients, you may be missing some nonverbal cues. Body language, tone, inflection and facial expression convey what’s not being said.

        For example, if your patient noticeably turns away, gives a tentative expression, or sighs at the mention of a certain medication, be sure to ask them why. The reason is often one you as the physician can remedy.

      • Work Together to Seek Solutions
        Once you discover why a patient isn’t adhering, show your support and work together to find a solution.

        For example, in cases where the cost of medication is often a deterrent, especially for those on a fixed income, use your influence to justify the cost, refer to prescription plans, or work with the patient to find a cost-accommodating pharmacy.

        If your patient is uncomfortable with the drug’s side effects, identify whether there are other drugs you can prescribe or medications that will offset the side effects.

        Finally, if your patient is refusing to adhere due to stigma, you may need to use cognitive-behavioral strategies to change their beliefs.

    • Put It In Writing Even when you thoroughly explain the care plan to your patients and have the pharmacist reiterate, patients still might forget the specifics.

      Take the time to put diagnosis and care plans, with medication instructions and any follow-up in writing. Encourage the patient to share the information with a family member or caregiver, and provide contact information should they have any additional questions.
    • Check to Make Sure Patients Understand You After providing your instructions, ask your patient to immediately summarize what they have just heard. For example, you can say, “I know this may be very confusing. Why don’t you explain to me what you understand in your own words.”

      You need to know your patient thoroughly understands the information as you have provided it. If not, you need to find a different way to explain.
Try Patient Activation Patient activation is a patients willingness and ability to take independent actions to manage their own health and care. There are many studies that show a direct correlation between level of patient activation and outcomes.    

Managing chronic conditions is much easier when everyone is on the same page, and using your patient communication skills can help ensure patients know what they need to do. Improving patient adherence takes time, but by building trust and mutual understanding, you can reach your goal of helping your patients live their best lives.

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