Medication Adherence Myths and How Tech Tools Can Help


by Krissy Goelz (@Krisgoelz)

There are two types of people in the world those who play by the rules and those who bend or break them. When it comes to patient compliance, its not quite so clear cut. Even the most responsible by-the-book individuals have moments when they dont heed doctors orders.

Why? Well, its human nature.

Recently, physician and author Katrina Firlik explored and debunked the top five medication adherence myths she encounters. Failure to comply whether thats following a doctors orders, taking medication as directed or filling prescriptions is an evergreen pain point in healthcare. As long as there are patients, there will be incidence of non-adherence or mal-compliance.

Patient-focused technologies and other technological advancements may be the cure for minimizing non-compliance and improving health outcomes. Whether technology serves as a reminder to take the right dose of medication at the right time or facilitates its delivery, there are tech tools that can drive better health outcomes.

What are some of the issues and how can technology help?

The type of disease or condition predicts non-compliance. Failure to comply isnt limited to a particular disease class or condition it runs the gamut from patients needing to complete a course of antibiotics to those requiring daily medication such as cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Rather than rely on sighting the plastic seven-day-a-week pill box, patients can take advantage of high-tech reminders such as call center technology that delivers automated medication prompts to proactively alerts patients to take medication at a defined moment during the day (such as before breakfast).

The poor and undereducated are the biggest offenders. Compliance issues traverse socioeconomic boundaries. Of the 600,000 Americans who have bypass surgeries each year, more than 90 percent are unable to change their lifestyle to mitigate health risks. In the face of do or die, if people arent willing to undergo the rigors of change, how can health care professionals move the needle and get patients to understand their critical role in their own care?

Video games can help improve compliance by adding the element of fun to educational materials. An interactive learning environment also gets patients more involved in their care and increases “information stickiness. Social and mobile technologies can actually help patients form healthy habits either by encouraging healthy behaviors through a supportive network or by using apps that monitor medication and behavioral events.

Patients are forgetful. Sure, some people forget to take their prescriptions, but others simply fail to fill prescriptions in the first place or they dont refill them as directed. There are multiple reasons why this occurs: failure to realize improvements theyll experience as a result of taking a particular medication, feeling that they no longer need the drug, cutting medication in half to extend the prescription, financial concerns or simply deciding they dont want to do it.

For patients taking medication for chronic conditions, reducing the drop-off rate and improving refills can be aided through tech tools such as electronic journals that help them monitor and log side effects or improvements. RFID technology or embedded sensors can impact compliance rates by “beeping to remind patients to take or refill their prescription as well as sending communication to their health care provider to let them know patients are taking their medication at the right frequency. In addition to improving patient compliance, it can provide physicians with data to help them better understand events that could have serious health consequences.

Physicians should take the lead. New technologies such as RFID sensors can provide insight into what happens outside the practice, but complying with doctors orders is ultimately the patients responsibility. However, there are tech tools doctors can use to drive compliance.

Prescribing technology and processing prescriptions electronically can improve compliance rates (no more prescriptions lost at the bottom of a handbag!) by simply automating the process. Drug and patient databases can track activity such as when a prescription was last filled and if it is time for a refill. Physicians (and pharmacists) can lend further support to patients through other forms of electronic communication such as email or text messaging to address patient concerns with prescriptions or simply as another point of contact to keep patients engaged in their own care.

Education, patient reminders and lowering costs are the Holy Grail. Much noncompliance is just the result of humans being humans, whether thats avoidance, forgetfulness, thinking they know better than their physicians, or lack of instant gratification. Keeping health top of mind whether thats through iPad apps, mobile reminders or a strong supportive network is the root of compliance and can make the difference between a patient that follows doctors orders and one who does not.

Technology can actually help overcome all these challenges, but just like the medication that is prescribed, it will only work if people actually use it.




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