Improving medication adherence
By: Susie Newton, RN, MS. AOCN, AOCNS | March 14, 2016
How nurse educators can improve the patient experience to bring the numbers up.
Following a prescribed medication regimen is one of the most important aspects of a patient’s treatment, whether they are recovering from a short illness or dealing with a chronic disease. Yet several studies show alarmingly high rates of non-adherence to medication among high-risk patient populations and how it’s impacting their personal and financial health. Consider:
So as we observe Patient Safety Awareness Week this week, it is important to talk about the impact medication adherence has on patient safety, and how improving the patient experience can lead to better outcomes and improved overall health.
Patients have a lot of reasons for not taking their meds, ranging from occasional forgetfulness, to unpleasant side-effects, to a lack of understanding about what they are supposed to do. Many organizations, and physicians are trying to reduce this costly and dangerous trend through better education and monitoring, like the Script Your Future medication adherence campaign in the United States, and Adherence: Let’s Take Care of It in the UK.
One approach that we have found to be particularly effective is to include nurse educators in the caregiving conversation. Nurse educators can act as an additional resource for patients and physicians, providing additional guidance and education to patients after they have received their diagnosis and treatment regimen from their physicians. This can be especially helpful for newly diagnosed patients, or those who need to follow a complicated treatment regimen and may feel confused or overwhelmed.
For example, one biopharma company offers their patients — newly diagnosed with a specific chronic disease — a support program that includes home visits by a licensed nurse. The nurses can answer questions and watch as the patients give themselves injections to make sure they are self-administering the medication correctly. The nurses continue to visit their respective patients until they have adjusted to their treatments and have the confidence to do it alone.
The results of this decade-long program have been remarkable — the biopharma company has reported that patient data shows a 40% increase in adherence among patients who have the support of a nurse educator versus those who don’t.
These nurse educators can assist patients in the doctor’s office, at their homes or over the phone to help them address the common worries and misconceptions that often occur with starting a treatment regimen. For example, we’ve had oncology patients confess that they experienced painful mouth sores when first beginning treatment and voluntarily took themselves off the medication, when in fact all they needed was an adjustment until the symptom resolved. Other patients simply didn’t understand how to use their medication or what impact not following the treatment would have on their overall health.
In many of these cases, patients just need extra time and support from an expert who can help them overcome the fears and insecurities that might otherwise cause them to give up on a medication or to use it incorrectly. Having this added support ensures patients get the help they need, and gives physicians the confidence to prescribe these medications knowing their patients have one more avenue of support.
Improving the patient’s experience by providing this extra line of communication can increase adherence rates, which improves outcomes and reduces the risk of complications, relapses, and other adverse events that will have negative impact on quality of life.