Underneath the Surface: What Are the 7 Main Barriers to Medication Adherence?

Across the United States, more than 80% of adults have been prescribed at least one medication to be taken on a regular basis. Yet a large percentage have not even filled the prescription or are taking it improperly. Medication adherence has become a critical issue in our country today. 

What is medication adherence?

“Medication adherence” is a general term for all factors surrounding and leading up to taking your medicine. This includes getting a prescription filled or refilled, remembering to take it timely and reading/understanding the directions. “Medication compliance” is the act of actually taking the medication, complying with your doctor’s expert recommendation for improving your immediate or long-term health.

Why is medication adherence so important?

Typically medical providers do not prescribe medications that are not necessary. Therefore, taking your medicine exactly when and how it is prescribed can be life-saving or, at the least, life-sustaining. Whether it be a chronic condition such as heart disease or cancer, or a temporary condition such as the flu, taking your prescribed medicine in accordance with the doctor’s directions is critical. Not practicing good medication adherence, on the other hand, may result in additional health complications and a lesser quality of life, not a place

What are some of the most common barriers to medication adherence?

There are many, understandable reasons why people are not able to follow a strict regiment in regard to medication adherence. Seven of the most common barriers are:

1. Time: Lack of time and/or the struggle to properly manage time is the most common obstacle to proper medication adherence. Forgetting to stop by the pharmacy or to arrange for home delivery certainly impacts your ability to take your medicine. But even with medicine in hand, a medication plan is crucial – what time(s) do I take it? What dosage do I take? How do I ensure that I don’t take a double dose? Consider using medication planning tools such as a pillbox or a medication planner.

2. Knowledge: Most of us are not medical professionals and, as such, don’t always understand a medication’s proper use, why and how to take it, side effects and the consequences of simply not taking the medication. Other than the prescribing physician, the best source for answers to your questions is the pharmacist. Many pharmacies are equipped with Automated Dispensing Cabinets and other modern efficiencies, thus freeing up the pharmacist to spend more quality time with patients. Take advantage of this valuable resource.

3. Doctor issues: Less common than the previous two barriers but equally as serious, a poor relationship or chaotic communication with your doctor can definitely be a roadblock to proper medication adherence.

4. Motivation: I feel better now or, conversely, I’m not feeling any better. Why should I continue to take this medicine?

5. Side Effects: Experiencing or perceiving potential side effects can be real. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for clarification.

6. Access: How can I get to the pharmacy? Will they deliver?

7. Money: Am I getting the best value for my money?

Where do we go from here?

There is currently no final game plan or road map as to how to hurdle these barriers and move forward to a fully-compliant medically adherent society. Many studies have been conducted regarding medication non-adherence, specifically one that involved patients with the chronic diseases of hypertension and diabetes. The objective was to determine if a phone call from a pharmacist would improve their medication adherence.

When interviewed by the pharmacist, a sizable percentage of the patients identified forgetfulness and doctor issues as the reasons for not taking their medication. The pharmacist briefly answered their questions and concerns. The study concluded that this short-lived interaction with a medical professional resulted in a “significantly better” medication adherence over the course of six months. Now on to long-term sustainable results.

The barriers to medication adherence are numerous. However, personal interaction with medical professionals has proven to be beneficial and maybe the way forward for the future.