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Promoting Medication Adherence

November 5th, 2012

Medication adherence will be an increasing important measure of quality with the growth of accountable health organizations (ACOs) in the nation’s healthcare delivery system.  Many of the quality measures established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) involve the effective use of medications in patient care, particularly in cases involving chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

Promoting medication adherence may also provide financial benefits to ACOs, since patients who comply with physician instructions are more apt to keep their conditions under control.  That means they are less likely to need expensive emergency or in-patient services, allowing ACOs to recoup some of the potential cost savings.

In today’s healthcare climate, hospitals, physicians and other providers will also need to pay close attention to medication adherence strategies, even if they do not join an ACO.  That’s because effective patient follow-up – through phone calls, emails, texts or patient portals – can improve long-term outcomes while reducing overall costs.  For example, diabetes patients with low levels of adherence have almost twice the total annual health care costs of those with high levels of adherence, according to the New England Health Institute (NEHI). Overall, NEHI has estimated that one-third to one-half of all patients in the U.S. do not take their medications as prescribed by their doctors, adding as much as $290 billion annually to the nation’s total health care expenditures.

Fortunately, healthcare organizations have a variety of ways to promote medication inherence. One of the most effective is for a professional to take the time to answer a patient’s questions, explain the importance of compliance and obtain follow-up contact information prior to discharge.  That allows the provider to reach out to the patient at appropriate intervals to see if a medication has been purchased and is being taken as prescribed.  A phone contact also provides an opportunity to answer any questions and discuss any potential side effects.  In addition, the use of electronic health records (EHRs) and e-prescription applications can help automate the follow-up contact system, making it easier for providers to achieve the quality and cost-saving benefits of improved medication compliance.

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