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Jul 21

What causes medication non-adherence?

Medication adherence has been a hot topic for a variety of reasons. These range from the definition itself, to value based care, to scrubbing out the phrase “medication compliance” in its entirety. One thing stands true regardless… the importance of medication adherence throughout the medical community and addressing the causes of medication non-adherence. Before we dive into the causes, let’s define medication adherence.

What is medication adherence?

Many different organizations define this term differently. When it all boils down to it, medication adherence is the degree to which a patient takes their medication as prescribed by their provider. This includes taking the prescribed medication, at the correct time, with the prescribed frequency. It is important to note that organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) take this a step further. The AMA states that 80% of the prescribed medication must be taken as prescribed in order for a patient to be considered adherent.

Causes for Medication Non-Adherence

It seems like an odd thing to happen, right? As a provider and patient yourself, it seems odd that patients don’t take medications that will inevitably make them feel better and save them money long term. When issues such as cost arise for patients, the answer becomes a lot less simple. It goes without saying that patients today shoulder much of the burden when it comes to financial responsibility due to high deductible. High prescription costs create an obstacle for many and some avoid filling the prescription all together. On the flip side of this, some patients will fill an expensive prescription only to ration the medication to make it last longer. This makes them non-adherent and also will make the medication all the less effective in the long run. For patients who are struggling with medication adherence, talk to them and figure out if it is a cost problem. If it is, find coupons, discounts, samples and other ways to lessen the cost barrier.

Another reason that patients may be found non-adherent to their medications is due to fear. Patients may be afraid of potential side effects that the medications lay out. Another potential reason that the patient is fearful of a medication is due to an experience in the past that did not go well, or the experience of a friend with the meds. Fear can be hard to overcome but patient education can be provided. This can go a long way in helping patients understand the medication they are one, what to watch out for with side effects, and what potential effects are normal with the medicine at hand. Providers should communicate with patients and address any concerns while also hearing out patients fears. If they have an old story or a past bad experience, maybe a different medication will work in its place.

Other reasons for medication non-adherence include the following:

  • Not understanding how to take the medication: Patient education, clear instruction, and a good line of communication can make all of the difference for patients struggling to understand how to take their medication. Some instructions are confusing, especially for patients that have chronic illnesses.
  • Symptoms subside before medication is out: Sometimes when patients begin to feel better, they stop taking their prescription. Often patients forget that the medication is the reason that they are feeling better and to make sure that they continue to feel this way, they need to finish the prescription in its entirety. Remind patients that finishing prescriptions is important, even if they begin to feel better.
  • Having too many medications: Some patients feel overwhelmed by the amount of medications they need to take on a regular basis and simply stop taking them all. Their dosing schedule becomes too much for them to manage. For patients that you know have a long laundry list of medications, work with them to find a medication that could fit into their dosing schedule, or a medication that could address multiple issues they are ailed with.
  • Trust in the provider: As sad as this sounds, some patients do not trust their provider. This might be due to their provider not giving them adequate time to listen to their concerns or overall lack of education. A patient may also believe that a provider is only prescribing a specific medication due to a payback from the pharmacy company, too. It is important that provider build up a rapport with their patients to minimize any issues of distrust.

Medication adherence is achievable. Providers may have to put in extra work to achieve this worthwhile goal in terms of communication, education, and building up trust but it can lead to better health outcomes.

Are you ready to improve medication adherence at your practice? Let us know how we can help your practice today. Visit our website at or call us at 800.624.8832.

About the author,
Savanna Adams

Savanna is the Marketing Communication Specialist at Henry Schein MicroMD. She schedules emails to clients, prospects, and VARs, manages social media accounts, performs research, writes blogs and eBooks, and much more while helping to support the simple yet powerful MicroMD solutions.

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