• 10 May 2016

    Doctor Communication and Medication Adherence

    Pamela Morris, Director, Syndicated Research, Zitter Health Insights

    A recent large-scale survey found that people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) believe that their relationship with their healthcare professional can positively impact the management of their disease.[i] But how does doctor-patient communications influence the patient’s adherence to medication protocols?

    Our December 2015 Abandonment Insight Monitor (AIM) survey found that RA patients are more than twice as likely to never fill their prescription if their doctor did not give them all of the information they needed. The 303 patients surveyed also indicated that they were nearly twice as likely to abandon their medication before their first fill if they did not feel comfortable asking their doctor all of their questions about a new treatment. Clearly, conversations with a doctor are incredibly important for the treatment of RA patients.

    From our March 2016 survey of 306 RA patients, we learned that 82% discussed their RA medication with their doctor at a recent appointment. While 47% discussed how the medication is working and 36% discussed side effects, only 21% talked about taking the medication as directed.

    Whether a patient and doctor talked about adherence varied by the original reason the patient scheduled the appointment. Half of patients who had a recent flare up did not talk about adherence with their doctor (50%), along with about half of patients who were checking in to see how their medication was working (48%). Because issues such as flare ups could possibly stem from non-adherence, this shows that doctors are not always engaging in important conversations about taking medication exactly as prescribed. When these conversations do not take place, patients’ health and their treatment may suffer.

    Two-thirds of patients report that their doctor helps motivate them to take their RA drug exactly as prescribed. The most common way doctors help their patients is by verbally reminding them why adherence is important (27%). Many patients also reported that their doctors helped by setting up automatic refills (24%) and holding them accountable by always asking about adherence (23%). According to the patient ratings, the most effective way a doctor can help is by helping them set up automatic refills– but only one-quarter of patients report that their doctor has helped with this. Encouraging doctors to play a more active role in helping  patients set up automatic refills for their medication may greatly improve overall patient adherence.

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    When patients were asked if there were any other ways they wish their doctor would help them stay motivated to take their medication as prescribed, 11% of patients agreed that there were other tools and methods they felt they needed. Patients reported that they wanted reminders not just about the correct time to take their medication, but also reminders about the correct dosage. Patients also reported not having enough time with the doctor themselves— one patient noted that they are assigned to a physician’s assistant but would like to see their doctor more often; another patient reported wishing they could set up time for the doctor to talk to herself and her husband so that they were both knowledgeable about the medication. By encouraging more doctor-patient communication, doctors may improve adherence and decrease drug abandonment, thereby helping their patients better cope with their RA.