For physicians who wish to improve medication adherence in patients, the answer may lie in targeting patient education and health literacy.
Medication non-adherence is remarkably common, affecting as many as 40-50% of patients, many of whom have chronic conditions, low health literacy, and are especially vulnerable to adverse outcomes.
Physicians can help their patients improve adherence through a number of simple, practical communication steps, ranging from how they discuss medications to simplifying printed materials.
It’s quite common, when physicians talk with their patients to communicate instructions, many of them don’t really understand the documents they are being given.
As a result, physicians should consider revisiting any pamphlets, documents or medication information.
It should be simplified, written in a way that everyone can understand, with large font sizes, pictograms and explanatory videos.
Furthermore, elderly people or those with vision problems should also be taken into account, meaning that the documents should not be printed too small.
Additionally, physicians can engage in teach back methods where they ask if the patient understands what they’ve read or been told and then ask them to repeat the essentials before they leave the office or encounter.
It’s also equally important that physicians don’t assume patients know how to use devices such as inhalers or injectable medications.
They might discover later that a patient has been using it incorrectly for a long time.
Furthermore, during the COVID-19 pandemic, given that people with co-morbidities are at greater risk of catching and dying from the virus, it’s very important that patients know why they’re taking each medication they’re on.
Physicians can be sure to tell patients verbally what every single one of the drugs is being taken for.
If physicians only did one thing and that was to say to their patients “This is for your high blood pressure and this is for your high cholesterol”, the patients might be more likely to take the meds on a regular basis.
Otherwise, when patients are unclear on what a medication is for, particularly if it has a high co-pay each month, they might try to stretch or even stop taking a medication to save money, among other reasons.
While some practices may have analytics in place to help them identify low health-literacy and high medication non-adherent populations, most of them do not.
Instead, physicians should always assume that most of their patients have low health literacy and make information as accessible as possible.
Just because physicians give something to the patient, it doesn’t mean they’re going to use or understand it.
They have to make it accessible to everybody.