How to improve patients’ compliance to medicines

Causing over 125000 deaths each year and at least 10 per cent of all hospitalisations in the United States alone, non-adherence to prescribed medication is a completely avoidable epidemic that concerns doctors worldwide.

This is the reason why many medications do extremely well during studies – when patients are monitored to ensure they follow doctors’ recommendations, but fail once they hit the market. “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them,” concludes former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

There are many reasons why patients don’t take their medicines as prescribed, and doctors and researchers are coming up with ways to tackle these issues, especially with medications that treat chronic and silent diseases like asthma and hypertension.

Patients with chronic diseases usually only take about half the dosage prescribed to them, according to a review from Annals of Internal Medicine. This is usually due to high prices of meds, so patients believe that by taking half the recommended dosage, they will still benefit from taking their medication, while making it last longer, saving a lot of money.

Those suffering from silent diseases usually don’t take their meds because they simply don’t feel sick, and question how effective the medication actually is.

There’s also the common aversion to taking medicine, as patients often see them as unnatural and/or unnecessary chemicals. Many patients will prefer taking vitamins and other supplements over prescribed medication, even though dietary supplements are often not approved by authorities and have very little research backing up their effectiveness.

Other common reasons for poor compliance to medicine include patients simply forgetting to take the prescribed drugs, and patients experiencing side effects.

While doctors can help patients adhere to their recommendations by explaining the medications’ actions, talking about possible side effects and how to manage them, and helping patients create new habits – like leaving their meds near their tooth brush, so they always take their meds when they brush their teeth, there’s limitation to what they can actually do.

There’s an abundance of studies around this subject, and most doctors have experienced issues with patients’ non-adherence to prescription drugs, whether they are treating a chronic disease or a simple infection.

If you are interested in this subject, we recommend the following readings:

Interventions to improve adherence to self-administered medications for chronic diseases in the United States: a systematic review.

Interventions for enhancing medication adherence (Review)