Medication non-adherence, or non-compliance, is a significant problem in healthcare. When people with chronic illnesses don’t take their medicine, it obviously hampers the effectiveness. For some treatments that have a cumulative effect, non-compliance can even undo the positive effects the therapy has had up to that point.
There are several reasons patients may fail to keep up with medications prescribed to them. A big one is access: when patients have difficulty getting their medications—whether that means problems getting a new prescription when the old one has run out, or financial or other obstacles in the way of having the prescription filled, or something else—they are likely to let it fall by the wayside.
Another issue, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, and the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, is communication difficulties. Doctors who don’t adequately convey the importance of sticking to the treatment regimen tend to have non-compliant patients.
The study asked more than 9,000 diabetes and heart disease patients to rate their doctors’ communications skills, and looked at how long it took those patients to refill their prescriptions. The lower the score the patients gave their healthcare professionals, the longer the delay in refilling.
Moreover, nearly one in three patients showed less compliance than their doctors realized. According to the researchers, patients who felt their doctors were listening to them and involving them in treatment were significantly more likely to be following instructions properly and consistently.
The researchers suggest that doctors could improve outcomes by learning specifically how to better build these relationships. They found that better overall communication—even if not focused on compliance—can help boost compliance rates.