Patients are ultimately responsible for taking their medications as prescribed, but there are many factors that affect adherence. Patients who are younger, single, members of minority groups, and/or immigrants are more likely to be nonadherent to prescribed medications for controlling chronic diseases. The financial and emotional burdens of taking medications and a lack of understanding of long-term health outcomes are other factors that diminish medication adherence.
Poverty is a crucial risk factor for nonadherence. In addition to difficulties with affording prescribed medications, other constraints such as low-quality housing, shift work, and food insecurity are common among low-income patients and contribute to medication nonadherence. These patients also tend to have more chaotic lifestyles, lower health literacy levels, and higher levels of psychological stress which are also linked to higher rates of medication nonadherence.
Patients who are struggling with negative emotions including fear, self-blame, guilt, helplessness, and frustration are at greater risk for medication nonadherence. Depression, which is common among those with chronic illness, is a significant risk factor for nonadherence. Poor cognitive function and insufficient social support from family or friends are other factors that negatively affect medication adherence.
“The World Health Organization stated that improving medication adherence would have a greater impact on the health of the population than any new treatments or inventions that we have.”— AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger
Sometimes patients deliberately do not take their medications if they are in denial about their condition, are afraid of side effects, perceive a lack of immediate benefit of medications or can’t afford them. Patients’ cultural beliefs about health and medication-taking are also contributing factors causing intentional medication nonadherence. Patients can be reluctant to share their intentions to not take medications and their concerns with their healthcare providers. Other patients apply a trial-and-error approach to self-adjusting their medication.
Patients should be an active member of their healthcare team. Being open and communicative ensures that healthcare providers are aware of any concerns or questions patients may have and can address them in ways that best fit the individual and encourage medication adherence. Discuss any concerns of cost or side-effects with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Ways to Lower the Risks of Drug Side Effects
- Talk to your healthcare provider about what side effects to look out for, and what to do if you experience one of them.
- Read the information that comes printed on your medicine labels so that you are aware of the side effects associated with your medicines and know what to be on the lookout for.
- Ask if there are ways to prevent or manage drug side effects—like taking a medicine with food, or at bedtime.
- Ask whether you can drink alcohol when using the medicine, as combining alcohol with certain medicines can be dangerous.
- Make sure your healthcare providers are aware of any allergies you have.
- Contact your healthcare professional if you experience any side effects. Your healthcare providers will want to know about any side effects, and can work with you to either manage the side effects or can advise you if a switch to an alternative medication is needed.