By Jason Rose, CEO, AdhereHealth.
More than a year after scientists identified the first cases of COVID-19, infection rates continue to rise in regions across the United States.
The virus has been particularly devastating for those who can afford it least: the elderly, underserved communities, low-income families, and people of all ages with chronic conditions.
COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death rates for these groups are dramatically higher than for other populations.
According to the CDC, eight out of ten reported COVID-19 deaths in the US are among individuals 65 or older. And data from the COVID Tracking Project reveals that Black or African American individuals are up to 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white patients.
Patients with multiple chronic diseases are also at elevated risk. The CDC cites chronic kidney disease, COPD, obesity, and heart conditions as known contributors to poor outcomes from COVID-19, while Medicare statistics show extremely high rates of hypertension and hyperlipidemia, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease among hospitalized beneficiaries.
All these groups have another major risk factor in common. They are the populations that most often struggle to cope with the social determinants of health (SDOH), such as food security, social isolation, and access to healthcare, living wage employment, and transportation.
In the current economic environment, many of these individuals are even facing the hard choice of prioritizing food and shelter over the expenses of necessary healthcare and medications, despite the knowledge that avoiding care may increase their vulnerability to their preexisting conditions – and subsequently raise their chances of experiencing a worse outcome if they contract COVID-19.
Even with the prospect of mass vaccination on the horizon, it’s more important than ever for healthcare providers and health plans to understand and address the social determinants of health, starting with ensuring pharmacy access and medication adherence.
The role of medication adherence in population health management
Population health management focuses on staying one step ahead of the clinical and non-clinical factors that may lead to poor outcomes in targeted patient groups. For the six in ten Americans with at least one chronic disease, medication adherence is a critical component of maintaining good health.
Suboptimal medication adherence has significant impacts on chronic disease management and overall wellbeing. Incorrect use of medications contributes to tens of thousands of preventable deaths and half a trillion dollars in healthcare waste every year.
The reasons behind medication adherence issues are varied and challenging. Some patients experience undesirable side effects and change their doses without consulting their physicians, while others struggle to understand the importance of their prescriptions or fit their medications into their daily routines.
For patients with socioeconomic difficulties, the problem gets even more complex. Out-of-pocket drug costs are skyrocketing, leading large percentages of patients to abandon their medications unwillingly.