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BLOG: 6 guidelines for medication adherence


Health plans can help improve their members’ medication adherence by Incorporating these principals

How adherent are the members in your health plan to their prescribed medications? Chances are, not very. In a broad sample of studies, the average adherence rate across conditions was a bit more than half; 60% according to AARDEX Group Ltd., a MWV Healthcare Company in Sion, Switzerland. This low adherence rate is associated with enormous direct and indirect costs estimated by The New England Healthcare Institute at an annual $290 billion. These costs include additional inpatient and outpatient care as well as patient disability and death.

Health plans can help improve their members’ medication adherence by Incorporating psychological principles into their communications. According to an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the same principles used in Wellness & Prevention’s digital health coaching programs-found to help users improve medication adherence-can be adapted to use in the communications plans send to their members. Here’s how:

1/ Educate

The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology notes that when a patient understands why a medication has been prescribed, they can create a rationale for why they should take it according to instructions. This is a chance to help set appropriate expectations around side effects so the member can figure out how to cope with them. Having a plan to work through side effects may help members stay on therapy if they experience them.

2/ Connect patients to their providers

In a survey conducted by Wellness & Prevention, Inc., in which patients took medication, the most satisfied ones reported that they had doctors whose collaboration styles matched the patients’ preference. Encourage members to speak frankly with their providers about how they would like to work together. Whether they are looking for provider direction or collaboration, setting those boundaries makes it more likely they will receive it.

3/ Motivate and build confidence

Helping members understand how medication can benefit them in a real, meaningful way can motivate them to stay adherent. While the therapeutic benefits are important, people want to understand how medication will impact their abilities, the way they feel, their energy and their quality of life. Bring the benefits of therapy down to a personal level.

Member confidence can be supported by showing positive progress. When a patient is just starting medication, trackers and reminders can help support adherence and show success. Helping patients cope with normal barriers to adherence-like forgetting medication while traveling-can also build confidence.


4/ Make it a habit

During the same Wellness & Prevention, Inc. survey, it revealed that many users of digital health coaching who don’t take their medication, reported it was because they forget. Habits have three basic components: a cue, a ritual and a reward. The cue, or reminder, is especially important for medication adherence. Health plans can coach patients on creating meaningful medication reminders for daily doses, or time outreach to coincide with weekly, monthly or annual medication administration.

5/ Account for culture

For many patients, cultural factors-such as stigma around a condition or shame around sharing medical issues-may affect their ability to adhere to medication. Being aware of medical norms in the cultural communities of health plan members can inform communications around adherence.

6/ Make it simple

Medication and packaging can be difficult for people to understand. Health plans can help members make sense of complicated medication instructions by providing clearly stated, actionable information that helps patients take their medication correctly.

Health plans have a unique opportunity to provide patient outreach around medication adherence. These psychology-based communication principles can help make that outreach more effective, for the benefit of both the plan and the patient.

Amy Bucher is a psychologist who focuses on designing programs that help people live healthier and happier lives by changing their behaviors. She is associate director of Behavioral Science for Wellness & Prevention, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson Company.

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