Lack of Awareness Cited as Key Factor in Medication Nonadherence

Author: Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor

While most Americans recognize the importance of taking prescribed medication as directed, individuals who skip or forget doses are less likely to understand the health consequences of medication non-adherence, according to a new survey released by the National Consumers League (NCL) as part of its national Script Your Future campaign.

At last week’s launch of the multi-year national Script Your Future campaign in Baltimore, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin encouraged patients with chronic conditions to speak with their health care professionals about their medication.

"Our national challenge is to prevent poor health outcomes and to become a healthy and fit nation. One way is for the health care community and patients to come together to address medication non-adherence, which is a major public health problem," said Dr. Benjamin in a statement. "Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals can help prevent many serious health complications by initiating conversations with their patients about the importance of taking medication as directed.

According to the National Consumers League, the number of Americans affected by at least one chronic condition requiring medication therapy is expected to grow from 133 to 157 million by 2020. Nearly 3 out of 4 Americans report that they do not always take their medication as directed, a problem that causes more than one-third of medicine-related hospitalizations, nearly 125,000 deaths in the United States each year, and adds $290 billion in avoidable costs to the health care system annually.

Script Your Future brings together Baltimore area stakeholders in health care, business and government to offer practical tools for patients to help them better adhere to their medication, and to help health care professionals better communicate with patients. Baltimore is one of 6 regional target markets in which the campaign will pilot interventions, outreach activities, research, and advertising. The local coalition includes more than a dozen Baltimore-based health care stakeholders including University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, the Maryland Pharmacists Association, and Pfizer. The event is also an official stop on the AARP/Walgreens Wellness Tour, which provides mobile health tests to communities across the country.

The consumer survey results show that patients who do not always take their medication as directed are less likely to have received a full explanation of the consequences of their condition, and are less convinced of the importance of adherence. Communication between patients and their health care professionals is one key factor. More than three quarters (79%) of patients in Baltimore say they are very willing to raise questions or concerns about prescribed medicines with their health care professional, but only 55% say their doctor routinely asks about problems taking medication. Among less adherent patients, communication with health care professionals is even less frequent.

"The more a patient understands the impact medication has on their health, the more likely they are to keep up with their medication,” said Rebecca Burkholder, vice president of health policy for the NCL. “Script Your Future is working in Baltimore and communities across the country to encourage more conversations about the health consequences of non-adherence and to provide patients and their health care professionals with a range of online tools and resources to help improve adherence among patients with chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.”

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, also found that patients view automatic refills, reduced co-pays, and pill boxes as useful tools for improving adherence.

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