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Patients who skip medications cost healthcare $300 billion annually

Nearly half of study participants revealed that they at times decide not to take their medication.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Almost half of those with health conditions said that they skip their medication sometimes, despite knowing its benefits, while more than a quarter are unsure what to do if they experience side-effects, according to a new report from medical communications agency Couch.

Drug adherence isn't just important for the person taking the medicine. It's also critical for the financial well-being of the healthcare system generally, with some estimates placing the cost of nonadherence as high as $300 billion annually. 

While achieving 100 percent adherence is a farfetched notion, there is room for vast improvement. A separate study earlier this year from the American College of Preventive Medicine found that out of every 100 prescriptions, 50 to 70 are picked up and paid for at the pharmacy, 25 to 30 are taken properly, and about 15 to 20 are refilled as prescribed. And adherence levels drop when there are long stretches in which there's little to no communication from the provider.

In the new report, Couch set out to find if patients are getting value from their healthcare practitioner. This included providing patients with relevant information, ensuring they understand their illness and treatment, and how to manage it.

The likelihood of a person following medication guidelines correctly was dependent on the condition they were managing. While at least half of those with mental health, respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions reported skipping medication, no one with cancer reported doing so, suggesting a link between the life-shortening potential of a disease and a patients' management of their treatment.

Couch's survey also showed a strong link between higher educational attainment and levels of health literacy, as more educated participants reported a better understanding of their own health, as well as feeling more able to ask their doctor for clarification. 

Those with higher levels of education, however, are also more likely to skip medication, possibly because of a "perception that they are capable of self-diagnosis and medication."

In that regard, the report underscores the importance of patients having a good relationship with their HCP, whom they say can also help educate patients on where to seek reliable internet-based information.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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