Did You Know?? Fear of Meds Reduces Patient Adherence

FEBRUARY 01, 2008
Guido R. Zanni, PhD

Dr. Zanni is a psychologist and health-systems specialist based in Alexandria, Virginia.

According to a recent survey by Harris Interactive, 46% of adults are extremely or very concerned about adverse reactions when taking prescription drugs as directed. The same Harris poll found that patients' fears impact adherence. The following were reported among all adults who have ever taken prescription drugs1:

  • 35% decided not to take a medication because of potential adverse effects
  • 27% decided not to fill a prescription because of potential adverse effects
  • 94% stopped taking a medication after they experienced an adverse effect

Although 46% of patients have fears concerning potential adverse effects, pharmacists spend <25% of their time consulting with patients.2 Reasons for this disconnect are well known by all pharmacists—understaffing and time management.

What Do Patients Want to Know?

Patients are concerned with 4 essential aspects with regard to medication information: the agent's purpose, side effects, directions for taking it, and the dos and don'ts associated with the agent.3 Most patients prefer receiving information from practitioners, but 160 million Americans also turn to the Internet; 84% of all online adults search the Internet an average of 5.7 times per month for health information, and up to 55% of this group query physicians on Internet information.4 Patients also react to media health news; it is not unusual for patients to bombard practitioners with questions after media reports on FDA recalls and black-box warnings. It should be noted that 86% of Americans aged 50 and older hold favorable opinions of pharmacists—a statistic that exceeds favorable opinions of physicians (84%).5

Related Health Care Polls

Pollsters are regularly assessing Americans' health care beliefs and actions. The Table summarizes some of the more recent results. Please note that survey findings should be viewed cautiously; sampling error, sample size, wording, interviewer effects, and participant refusal affect accuracy. Although pollsters hope their survey samples represent a cross section of the population, sampling error always exists.



  1. Harris Interactive. Large numbers of people are not very confident in their own knowledge and the safety of prescription medications and this often leads to non-adherence. Healthcare News. April 18, 2007;1-5. www.harrisinteractive.com. Accessed December 1, 2007.
  2. Barrett L. Pharmacists' attitudes and practices regarding generic drugs. www.aarp.org. Accessed December 1, 2005.
  3. Dickinson D, Raynor DK. What information do patients need about medicines? Ask the patients--they may want to know more than you think. BMJ. 2003;861.
  4. Harris Interactive. Harris Poll shows number of "cyberchondriacs"—adults who have ever gone online for health information—increases to an estimated 160 million nationwide. The Harris Poll. July 31, 2007. www.harrisinteractive.com. Accessed December 1, 2007.
  5. Harris Interactive. Six million people have bought prescription drugs online; most are satisfied. The Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive Health-Care Poll. March 23, 2004. www.harrisinteractive.com. Accessed December 1, 2007.
  6. Skufca L. Are Americans age 45+ using prescription drugs wisely: a 2006 study. www.aarp.org. Accessed December 1, 2007.
  7. AARP. The bulletin poll: healthcare. AARP Bulletin. November 2007:4. www.aarp.org. Accessed December 1, 2007.