How to Solve the Top 8 Medication Adherence Barriers

medication adherence for chronic diseases

Modern medicines are powerful. They help us stay healthy, cure previously terminal illnesses, and can dramatically improve quality of life. Despite the importance of medication adherence, some patients struggle with taking their medications as prescribed. The causes of this phenomenon – known as medication nonadherence – are numerous, but we’re going to unpack the top reasons for nonadherence, according to the American Medical Association.  

Why is nonadherence an issue? 

We must understand the dangers posed by medication nonadherence. As we’ve previously highlighted, nonadherence creates negative downstream impacts, both for patients and healthcare organizations.  

The most immediate effect of nonadherence is the deterioration of patient health. If patients are prescribed a medication to manage or treat a condition and are unable to properly take it, the likelihood of their condition becoming worse increases. This issue is more widespread than you may think. In fact, nearly half of US adults report difficulty affording their healthcare costs. If patients cannot afford their medications, they are far less likely to take them, which leads to non-adherence. 

Organizations such as health plans also suffer as a result of medication nonadherence. Health plans are in the business of keeping their member populations healthy, and to do so, members must appropriately follow the direction of their healthcare team. When health plan members are nonadherent and their conditions worsen, their health plans shoulder more costly care in the future. Fortunately, this high-cost care could likely be avoided through proper medication adherence and condition management. 

medication nonadherence

Top 8 reasons for medication nonadherence 

Systemic barriers 

A lack of medication adherence is due to more than patients simply not following instructions. There are systemic challenges baked into our healthcare system that, if corrected, could result in improved medication adherence. Most systemic medication adherence barriers stem from a lack of patient education. These barriers can manifest as fear, misunderstanding, and mistrust. 

When patients don’t have enough information or support in taking new medications, they may fear potential side effects. It’s essential for patients to have adequate access to clinical professionals, such as pharmacists, to get their questions answered and concerns resolved.  

Similar to fear, misunderstanding is caused by inadequate patient education. A lack of understanding often leads patients to the internet or other resources, which may not be as reliable as a physician or pharmacist.  When patients are fully informed about their conditions and medications and have an action plan to follow, we can solve misunderstanding. 

A combination of fear and misunderstanding creates mistrust. When patients feel scared and don’t understand the story behind their health and medication regimen, they can draw incorrect conclusions. In an era of plentiful misinformation and disinformation, it’s critical for clinicians to educate patients, maintaining the trust that creates better relationships and improved health outcomes. 

Patient-centric barriers 

Simply put, many Americans can no longer afford the cost of their healthcare, including their medications. When patients must decide whether to buy groceries or medications, they may forgo medications for more seemingly essential needs. However, we know that avoiding medications, for any reason, can lead to increased costs and worsened health in the future. 

Too many medications 
As a medication regimen grows, the likelihood of nonadherence for at least one medication increases. For elderly patients or those with multiple chronic conditions, simply remembering to take each medication in a lengthy regimen presents a challenge. 

Lack of symptoms 
Especially when starting a new medication, patients may not feel differently while remaining adherent. This can cause patients to skip doses if they don’t believe there’s a benefit to the medication. Conversely, if a patient’s condition is under control, they may mistakenly think their issue is resolved and stop taking their medication as directed. 

Some patients find themselves worried about becoming dependent on medication over time and are reluctant to take it. Patients also may be misinformed about their medications and falsely believe that they are at risk of dangerous side effects. 

Patients suffering from depression are less likely to remain adherent to their medications. Because of this, it’s important that healthcare clinicians appropriately engage and screen their patients for depression to uncover hidden barriers to medication adherence. 

medication management routine

How healthcare organizations can improve medication nonadherence

While these medication adherence barriers are related to, and caused by, numerous factors, there is one common thread—proper medication education can improve or even solve them. 

Proper patient education is key to any high-performing healthcare organization. Whether a health plan, risk-bearing provider group, or other organization, there is a common goal. Empower your populations with the information they need to take charge of their own health.  

How clinical pharmacists can improve medication nonadherence

If education is the answer to improving nonadherence, what’s the best way to deliver it? Pharmacists. 

The most powerful tool in pharmacists’ arsenal is their unique ability to engage and educate patients about their medications. Clinical pharmacists are more qualified than any other clinician to give patients the best and easiest-to-understand information about their medications.  

Aspen RxHealth pharmacists receive extensive training on motivational interviewing and patient consultation best practices to ensure that they meet patients where they are. Through this approach and intelligent matching technology, Aspen RxHealth pharmacists connect with members on a deep level and build long-lasting relationships. 

If you’re a pharmacist looking to fully utilize your clinical expertise to connect more deeply with patients, you can learn more here.  

If you’re a healthcare organization seeking to boost your medication adherence rates and improve your population’s health, take the first step to learn more.