According to the World Health Organization half the patients in the developed world don’t properly take their drugs for chronic conditions. The additional costs for treating diseases that progress unchecked run into the hundreds of billions of dollars a year. This information was recently addressed in an article in The Wall Street Journal, reporting that one study estimates nearly 90,000 people die prematurely in the U.S. each year because of poor adherence to high blood-pressure treatment alone.

Surprising information from a nationwide survey conducted by the Polling Company for the National Community Pharmacists Association included the following statistics:

49% Forgot to take a prescribed medication

38% Forgot they had taken a medication

31% Did not fill a prescription

29% Stopped taking the medication before the directions said to or before the supply ran out

24% Took less than the recommended dosage

13% Took someone else’s prescription

11% Received a prescription from a physician but substituted an over-the counter drug

8% Did not understand the instructions on how to take a medication

6% Took more than the recommended dosage

There are currently healthcare professionals and researchers tackling this issue to determine ways to address this subject. Ideas include getting more refill information so doctors may have “some way of tracking to know if patients are refilling their medications, so we can step in and help people if they aren’t,” says Robert Reid, a physician and researcher at Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-based nonprofit healthcare system that coordinates care and coverage. Getting pharmacists involved could be helpful, asking patients if they know why they’re taking a drug. That conversation can help ensure that patients will take their medication, says Antonio Tierno, an on-site pharmacist at Stamford, Connecticut-based Pitney Bowes Inc. A study including over 200 people age 65 and older who were taking at least four medications for chronic conditions boosted adherence to 97% from 61% after 6 months. Patients were educated about their medications, and pharmacists followed up with patients every two months. At the six month mark, those who continued with pharmacy care kept their adherence to 96%, and those for whom the program was discontinued dropped to 69%.

Dr. William Shrank of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “There’s more and more interest in how to motivate and engage patients beyond just simply reminding them or reducing financial barriers or simplifying therapy.” The article goes on to say that multifaceted programs that entail various combinations of those elements and education delivered by health-care professionals have shown promise in studies, but “we don’t have a good sense of what precisely is the right mix,”, Dr. Shrank says. What’s needed is a way to implement these efforts in a cost-effective way, which could ultimately save lives and billions of dollars.

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