By Mike Synder
In healthcare, we love to highlight the latest innovations and medical breakthroughs—and while that first-of-its kind surgery is important, it’s also important to focus on the basics—which often prove to be not so basic.
One “basic” lesson for healthcare providers is that prescribing life-saving medications isn’t enough. Medications don’t work if patients don’t take them. In fact, studies have shown that 3 out of 4 patients do not take their medications as prescribed.
Now, this isn’t necessarily an ‘aha moment,’ but it’s an issue that has come to the forefront with the release of a recent Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the report, 70 percent of U.S. adults ages 65 and older have high blood pressure (which is defined as 140/90mmHg or higher), but nearly half do not have their blood pressure under control. What’s even more troubling is that at least 25% of those adults with Medicare Part D prescription drug insurance are not taking their blood pressure medicine as directed.
Whether that means skipping doses or forgoing the medicine altogether, it’s problematic. Not taking blood pressure medication contributes to higher risks of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and death. Further, the CDC report highlights that some populations are more at risk than others, with the percentage of Medicare Part D enrollees not taking their blood pressure medicine being higher among certain racial/ethnic groups, like American Indians, Alaska Natives, Blacks and Hispanics, and in geographic areas like the Southern U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
At first glance, it’s easy to be baffled by those statistics. Why is it so difficult for patients to take their medications, especially when the consequences are potentially deadly? As the report explains, there are many reasons why patients don’t take their medications. Some fail to fill the prescription at all or forget to refill it on time. Others stop taking the pills because they don’t have noticeable symptoms or because they experience unwanted side effects. In some cases, medications are just too expensive for patients.
Regardless of the why, providers have a responsibility to empower patients, not only within the walls of the exam room, and at the pharmacy, but also at home, on-the go, and everywhere in between. After all, healthcare today spans across the continuum of care. It requires providers to connect with patients in new ways that are meaningful and relevant. It demands that providers adapt their communications to meet patients’ needs, rather than expect patients to adapt to their needs or preferences.
At the core of the important work that needs to be done is communication, which might be classified as basic, but is a shortcoming for many healthcare providers. This communication gap is arguably one of the biggest cracks in our healthcare ecosystem. At West, we know that engaged patients are healthier patients and that’s the foundation of everything we do. We believe that combining technology-enabled communications with clinical resources to help engage patients beyond the clinical setting, across the continuum of care, is critical to improving the patient experience, outcomes, and costs.
In order to be impactful, communication to increase medication adherence must be patient-centric, proactive, and consistent. We’ve learned that once communication becomes reactive, it’s usually too late to be effective. That’s why we offer providers the ability to send smart, automated communications like text messages, voice calls, and voice messages, based on language preference (multiple language on voice, and Spanish for text). With our approach, providers can personalize interventions, delivering the right communication, at the right time in the patient’s channel of choice. Our technology also helps providers to best allocate their clinical and administrative resources by assessing which patients are engaging with the communication as expected and which patients require an escalated intervention.
We’ve seen the results of these communication strategies firsthand at health systems across the country. By keeping our focus on patients, and leveraging technology, we can all make an impact and help to improve blood pressure control nationwide. And while that may seem ‘basic,’ the outcomes can be quite profound.