Understanding why and how you should take your medicine doesn’t mean it’s easy to do so. For those with chronic conditions, taking a pill – or 20 – every day for the rest of your life can take a toll, on an emotional, physical, social and financial sense.
The more medications a patient is on, the more likely they are not to take all of them as directed. The same goes for complex medication regimens. Newer, easier drug delivery systems are an industry goal, but when you’re trying to treat a complex, chronic disease there isn’t always an easier option.
To help address both of these issues, patient programs have been created to provide both education and support for those with chronic diseases.
“(These programs) are designed to assist patients … helping them learn what to expect and how to use the medications properly, and understand not just the physical and procedural hurdles but also the psychological hurdles that come along with beginning a new long term therapy,” says David L. Van Brunt, Ph.D., senior director, health economics and outcomes research, immunology. His team studies the impact of such patient programs for AbbVie.
The challenge facing patient adherence
Tech companies have been jumping on the patient adherence bandwagon, offering high-tech solutions like medication reminder apps for this widespread problem. But as Brown points out, “when the vast majority (of people) aren’t taking their medicine because they choose not to, then an app isn’t going to fix the problem.”
These same patients may be hesitant to admit they aren’t using medications as directed, because they may want to please the doctor or avoid being admonished, Brown says. She urges physicians to show respect and appreciation when the truth does come out. “Thank them for being honest; tell them lots of patients don’t take their medicine and say, ‘let’s talk about why.’ If you talk to 10 patients, you will hear 10 different reasons.”
These 10 – or more – reasons can’t all be addressed overnight, but there’s no question they must be. The consequences of not taking your medication are dire; for example, people with hypertension are 5.4 times more likely to face hospitalized or premature death. And with around 75 percent of adults being non-adherent in some manner, that adds up to a lot of people getting unnecessarily sick. Taking ownership of the medication adherence epidemic is an essential first step.
“The problem of medication non-adherence isn’t going to go away,” says Joette Gdovin Bergeson, Ph.D., MPA, vice president, health economics and outcomes research, oncology, neuroscience. “It’s something we as a company (and society) have to commit to, making sure patients have everything they need to take their medicines and help prevent their illnesses from getting more severe.”