Talking to Patients about Adherence

By Aakash Patel

Increasing medication adherence improves the quality and length of life; for example, it is estimated that better adherence to antihypertensive treatment could prevent 89,000 premature deaths in the United States annually. Providing more information to patients on their conditions and medications may increase adherence. Research by Harvard University showed a decrease in emergency room visits by 20 percent as more information was provided to the patients.

Pharmacists can explain the outcomes of the medication, motivate patients by explaining how the medication improves quality of life, and determine barriers that might exist for non-adherence. Take time to remind patients when their refills are due and ask them about their thoughts on pros and cons of the medication when they pick up their refills. Many times patients do not receive any information about their medications from their doctor, and often do not even know the reason for taking it. The lack of understanding and information regarding their medication is a major cause of low adherence. Pharmacists are the most accessible and qualified health care providers who can increase patients’ understanding of their medications. Community pharmacists can monitor adherence based on when patients pick up their prescriptions. In addition, we can ask patients if they are satisfied with the medication they are taking, if they understand the reason for taking it, and encourage them to continue to take it.

Patients often do not adhere to their medication because of their belief about adverse outcomes and consequences of long-term use. Pharmacists can explain the benefit of taking their medications, possibility of an adverse effect, and what they can do in case of an adverse event. Spending quality time with patients and educating them about their medications will increase adherence. Through a medication therapy management project sponsored by NCPA, I have been able to spend time with patients to talk about their medications. I remember one particular instance where a patient informed me that she discontinued her statin because she was experiencing leg pain. She did not inform her doctor because she did not like the medication. After getting to know her a bit, I was able to convince her to talk to her doctor about an alternative medication.

Taking a minute to talk with patients about their concerns and beliefs can truly improve their quality of life.

Reprinted with permission from National Community Pharmacists Association in the September 2011 issue of America’s Pharmacist. For more information about NCPA, visit

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