Non-adherence to prescribed medications is already a significant problem within the medical community. Studies have consistently shown that 20 to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled at all. In addiction, about 50 percent of medications for chronic conditions are not taken as prescribed—but of course, that’s not where the negative impact ends.
Medication non-adherence correlates with up to 50 percent of treatment failures, 125,000 deaths, and 25 percent of hospitalizations per year. On top of that, lack of medication adherence costs the US healthcare system at least $100 billion each year, if not more. Pharmacists are left to determine the best way forward, whatever that is.
Now, like so many other areas of life, the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting medication adherence and introducing concerns that were already significant for providers and pharmacists alike. In this article, we provide an overview of the different factors affecting medication adherence during the COVID-19 pandemic:
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Medication Adherence
COVID-19 has completely changed how independent pharmacies regard medication adherence. While addressing medical non-adherence is always a top priority for independent pharmacists, it’s become an even bigger concern amidst the global pandemic, which has had a negative impact on adherence for many reasons.
According to Jason Rose, the chief executive officer (CEO) at AdhereHealth:
“It’s well known that unstable living environments, limited access to health care, lack of financial resources, and cost of medication have all been associated with decreased adherence rates, and that poor medication adherence leads to frequent re-hospitalizations and poor outcomes for patients with chronic conditions.
Now, the closure of businesses, paired with shelter-in-place, quarantines, and safer-at-home guidance, a patient’s normal medication access routines via caregivers, rideshares, and other support systems has been reduced or eliminated entirely. Unfortunately, many of them don’t have support and are going without care, and in many cases coping without medication and other necessary treatments.”
What factors are impacting medication adherence and how can they be improved in the days, weeks, and months ahead?
First and foremost, the economic impact of COVID-19 is well-documented. The US unemployment rate rose from 3.8 percent in February 2020, to a record 13 percent in May 2020. Many patients can no longer afford their prescriptions as a result of financial concerns. In addition, approximately 5.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance due to being out of work. With nearly half of the US population using employer-based insurance, it’s easy to see the impact it can have on medication adherence.
The recent circumstances have introduced issues in relation to filling medications—and the financial impact isn’t the only one. Many patients have avoided pursuing medical care during COVID-19 to minimize risk of contracting the virus. Mental health struggles and medication shortages caused by supply chain issues have also contributed to declining medication adherence rates.
How Independent Pharmacies Can Improve Medication Adherence
Barriers to patient health can come at a price if not properly addressed—but knowing how to respond during unprecedented times is much easier said than done. In order to improve medication adherence in 2020 and beyond, independent pharmacists need to take action—but determining the right approach, especially during a global pandemic, is not exactly straightforward.
Telehealth to Touch Base
Telehealth services have rapidly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, 83 percent of patients expect to use telehealth services after the pandemic resolves. Independent pharmacists can (and should) hold frequent telehealth appointments to touch base with patients on their medication regimens. This also introduces the opportunity to ask questions in regards to taking medications as prescribed by a provider.
Independent pharmacists should make it a point to flag patients with a history of medication non-adherence and reach out to intervene. For example, if a patient shows signs of non-adherence, such as not picking up filled medications on time, pharmacists can intervene to encourage adherence to treatment plans.
Pharmacists can also utilize technology that’s uniquely designed to improve medication adherence. Automated and personalized messaging, such as text reminders and phone calls, can significantly improve medication adherence across patient populations. Smart, wireless pill bottles and dispensers have also proven very effective when it comes to increasing medication adherence.
Last but certainly not least, many pharmacies offer a medication synchronization (med sync) program to minimize the number of in-person visits during the pandemic. The results speak for themselves: Med sync programs not only improve medication adherence, but they also introduce new revenue streams for pharmacies. For example, enrolling 100 patients in a med sync program can mean $90,000 more per year for your pharmacy.
Addressing Non-Adherence and Improving Care With Technology
As they attempt to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, independent pharmacies can utilize advanced pharmacy technology to automate time-consuming manual tasks and free up time to spend on more meaningful work, such as telemedicine services, medication deliveries, patient outreach, and more.
Modern pharmacy technology can help independent pharmacies to navigate medical billing intricacies, allowing for the expansion of patient care services like point-of-care testing and immunizations. Advanced pharmacy technology empowers independent pharmacists to offer treatment education and training on diseases and medications.
Plus, independent pharmacists can utilize data analytics to predict medical non-adherence and poor health outcomes in advance. This introduces an opportunity to intervene and work with patients to improve adherence through medication therapy management (MTM), which is “a distinct group of services that optimize therapeutic outcomes for individual patients.”
All in all, COVID-19 has introduced a number of new challenges, from maintaining medication adherence to taking the proper precautions during social events. However, with the right tools and the right approach, independent pharmacists can still improve patients’ adherence to medication, even during tough times like these.