By Patrick Anquetil, CEO and co-founder, Portal Instruments.
Medications only work if people take them. And yet, it’s estimated that patients take only half of the doses they are prescribed by healthcare professionals. That holds true regardless of whether the medication is for life-threatening conditions, or just a simple infection. With 190 million Americans affected by one or more chronic conditions, most of which are managed through medication, the consequences across society of non-adherence becomes substantial.
Non-adherence to medication causes about 125,000 deaths a year. As much as 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions can be traced back to the patient not taking their prescribed medication, and non-adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of treatment failures.
It’s estimated that in the U.S. alone, non-adherence costs the healthcare system about $100 billion to $290 billion a year. If adherence were a disease, it would be one of the largest and most expensive disease categories.
Costs and Benefits
With the consequences so severe, the question then becomes: Why don’t patients take their medication? The issue has been studied for decades and yet the rate of adherence hasn’t changed much during the past 30 years.
Research has shown that patients often don’t truly appreciate the importance of medications to their health. Cost is also a factor. Patients sometimes determine that the cost of medication outweigh the benefits. In some cases, the complexity of the treatment is an issue.
The solution then is complex and must be addressed on multiple levels. A study by the World Health Organization showed that adherence rates are influenced by the structure of healthcare systems, the patient-provider relationship, the recommended treatment, and socioeconomic factors.
But with modern technology, healthcare providers now have new tools they can use to combat non-adherence. Apps and other intelligent tools can facilitate ease of use, enhance patient-physician communication, improve comfort, and make administration of medications more convenient.
Developers, for example, are creating interactive software products that can track dosages, provide reminders, and communicate information directly to healthcare providers. They are also employing games to incentivize adherence by rewarding patients who stay on top of their treatment plan. Smart pill bottles, boxes, and caps that alert the patient to missed dosages are becoming more commonplace and will take an important role in coming years.
New technologies that can make following the medical regime easier and more tolerable for the patient can also improve adherence. In some cases, this may be as simple as an extended release medication that results in taking one pill a day instead of two. In other cases, new technologies that reduce the number of steps involved in a treatment or simplify the process can reduce non-adherence. This is particularly true for elderly patients who might lack dexterity or the ability to follow complex protocols with procedures such as administering eye drops, or using inhalers.