On a list of ways to keep people healthy, medication adherence must be near the top. Studies have found that 40 – 50 percent of patients with chronic conditions don’t take their prescriptions. This has led some to call medication non-adherence “America’s other drug problem.”
Medications don’t work if patients don’t take them. Medication non-adherence is believed to cause 100,000 deaths and $100 billion in medical costs every year. Some patients forget to refill. Others stop after noticeable symptoms recede. And for many, medications are perceived to be too expensive.
Whatever the reason, medication non-adherence puts stress on the healthcare system. Oftentimes, it comes down to a communication gap. Engaged patients are healthier patients, so it helps to communicate outside the clinical setting and across the continuum of care.
When you think of prescriptions, pharmacy is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s just one of three key parts of medication adherence. To keep people healthy, many different people and factors must work together. That includes pharmacists, doctors and insurance providers.
Each of these three has a critical role to play to make sure patients get, understand and stick to their medications and stay healthy. So here is how each of these providers can better communicate with patients to increase medication adherence and play their own part in a patient engagement strategy.
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Pharmacy: The front line for medication adherence
A pharmacy is that front line entity you see when you pick up your prescription. A pharmacy must engage patients to provide critical updates and let them know what their options are.
An open door for communication
Patients can order multi-month prescriptions. They can know when their pharmacy fulfillment might go back on the shelf. They should be notified when a prescription is ready for pickup. Pharmacies must always keep an open door of communication to let the patient know what’s happening with their prescription and when the patient can engage with them.
But pharmacies are taking on a new role as well, one which could change the way the entire industry interacts with patients.
Bridge between clinic and prescription
No longer are pharmacies just a storefront where someone walks up the counter, gives their name and information and picks up their prescription. They’re also expanding their services to be part of the clinical experience as well. They have clinics and on-site staff to create a bridge with the clinical experience and supply them their prescription, too.
Some consumers have come to take some of these features for granted. Over time, 90-day prescriptions, refill reminders and order-ready notifications have become industry standards. As such, they remain crucial in the push for greater medication adherence, but pharmacies must adapt by improving the clinical side of their business and providing personalized experience that shows you are thinking about each customer. That will keep them coming back.
Insurers: Promoting end-to-end patient health
Insurance providers have their own desires to make sure that a patient follows their wellness plan. They want to do everything they can to help take care of them end-to-end as a patient and make sure they follow doctor’s instructions, including medication adherence.
Healthier patients equals fewer insurance claims. Medication non-adherence has a direct impact on the insurance business. Most insurance providers already promote wellness by covering preventative care, but many are stepping up their communication game, too.
Notifications for important events
Insurers now send their own reminders to patients. They may remind them what kinds of prescriptions they’re supposed to be taking. They may even let them know when a prescription is ready to be picked up or when a patient should consider scheduling a preventative visit.
Surveying customer preferences
They also provide a unique experience to allow the patient’s voice to be heard. Intrado runs survey programs with many of our insurer partners.
Through surveys, insurers reach out to patients and learn the best channel, time and content to contact patients. That makes their communication more efficient and allows insurance providers to play a unique role in medication adherence and each patient’s wellness path.
Healthcare: Start things right in the clinic
Whether it’s acute or outpatient care, clinical providers have their own responsibility when it comes to medication non-adherence.
Making sure patients understand
Clinical providers should deliver post-discharge or post-visit messaging to patients. That may be asking them how they’re feeling. Do they understand their doctor’s instructions? Have they scheduled their appointments? Are they going to be able to make those appointments?
And when it comes to medication adherence, healthcare providers should ask about their medications. Do they understand what medications they have to take and all the rules around them? Do they even have access to their medicines?
Excellent bedside manner, even through a screen
The key to it all is showing that you care about the whole customer and their whole experience. Doctors practice their bedside manner, but a key element in patient care is making sure they know and understand their medications — and have the ability to take them — after they leave the clinic.
Maximizing Medication Adherence for All Three Groups
While pharmacies, insurers and clinical providers must provide a unique form of communication, there are some aspects of a patient engagement strategy that apply to all of them.
1. Use each person’s channel of choice
Make sure patients know you know them and care about them. One way to do that is to converse with a patient in the channel they prefer.
Some patients would rather receive an SMS text message than get a voice call. But their next-door neighbor might like the opposite. So knowing and understanding that preference and continuing a conversation in the patient’s channel of choice creates an exceptional patient experience.
2. Find the right place, the right time and the right content
A key way health providers (and other types of businesses, for that matter) interact with clients is by optimizing each message as much as possible. A messaging provider like Intrado can enable you to identify the right place, the right time and the right content to outreach to a patient.
That helps you find a convenient time that not only allows patients to read or hear important information, but it also lets them take the appropriate next action, as well. That improves medication adherence rates and can cut costs, too, by reducing unread and unheeded messages.
3. Keep up with technology
Make sure to stay in front of what other technologies are available or what your competitors are using.
Rich communication services (RCS), for example, is a quickly growing channel that takes a step up on traditional SMS. It has a much slicker look and feel, and a patient can interact with their smartphone by pressing a button, instead of typing out full answers. Plus, Intrado has seen big improvements in open rates and response rates in the pharmacy world using RCS.
Another newer technology is toll-free texting. It allows providers to maintain consistency across branding by using a single toll-free number for both phone calls and text messages. That makes it easier for customers to recognize a text, since they or their caller ID might recognize your existing toll-free number. Then, it allows the patient to choose whether to call or text back.
Adoption Strategies to Combat Medication Non-Adherence
To put all this into practice, the most important thing is to think about your patients and the experience you want to provide to them. So it’s not just outreaching to give them information. But instead to do that in the right channel at the right time with the right content and information. It’s about providing a voice for your customers. And it’s about communicating on their terms instead of yours.
Reducing medication non-adherence starts by showing customers that you care about their health, not just taking their money. So first, choose which channels you want to open for patient outreach. What avenue will serve as your ongoing open door of communication?
Next, remember that this isn’t a one-way conversation. Put vehicles in place to receive feedback.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure you do something with the information you receive. You may learn how to improve one-on-one experiences with a single patient. But you could also discover opportunities to change your overall strategy and treat similar patients in the same way.
Better Adherence for a Healthier Nation
The importance of this topic goes beyond generating income for pharmacies. Medication adherence is critical to reducing hospitalization costs and, therefore, insurance costs in our country. That’s why each of these groups should not only care about keeping people healthy for their own business’ sake, they must take the lead to promote overall wellness in our population.
Pharmacy. Insurance. Healthcare. All three groups can make a marked difference in increasing medication adherence through communication. And the impacts on wellness in our country could be truly meaningful.