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Dec 12, 2017

Medication Adherence Remains Challenging for Heart Patients

Taking medication as directed is critical to improving outcomes.

With less than half of heart patients taking their prescriptions as directed, increasing medication adherence is critical to improving public health, based on a recent review published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Each year, heart disease accounts for roughly 125,000 preventable deaths—many of which result from patients failing to take life-saving medication. In fact, studies suggest that patients with poor medication adherence have up to four times greater risk of stroke and death than those who take medications as prescribed.

To help bring this issue to light, a team of experts summarized key challenges and opportunities related to medication adherence in patients with heart disease. This team included experts from Tulane University, George Washington University, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other health organizations. Authors hope their findings will ultimately help improve medication adherence and improve outcomes for patients with heart disease—the leading killer of Americans.

Based on a thorough review of available evidence, authors identified five key factors that affect medication adherence. The first was socioeconomic status, which includes factors like income and education. Patients with lower income and education, many of which are minorities, are less likely to take prescribed medication as those with higher socioeconomic status.

The second factor impacting medication adherence was the therapy itself, like whether a drug has side effects or requires multiple doses a day. Studies show that patients are less likely to adhere to treatment if it has unwanted side effects or involves a complex regimen.

The third factor impacting medication adherence, according to authors, is the health care system and the type of care patients receive. Patients that have a strong understanding of their condition and treatment plan and have a supportive care team are more likely to adhere to prescribed therapy. However, education and support are often lacking in today’s health care system, leaving many patients unaware of the importance of medication adherence.

The remaining factors related to medication adherence included medical conditions like depression and other factors such as vision, mobility and alcohol abuse. These conditions can often get in the way of taking medication as directed, especially over a long period of time.

The good news is that addressing medication adherence has received increased attention in recent years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, often referred to as the FDA, has teamed up with many health organizations to improve medication adherence. Together, these organizations have come up with a number of strategies to improve medication adherence, such as making generic drugs more readily available, increasing health literacy among patients and addressing health disparities in minorities and low-income populations. Authors also note that experts are working towards a “polypill”—multiple heart medications in a single pill—to make it easier for patients to take essential medications.

Experts hope these efforts will help ensure that patients adhere to potentially life-saving medications and improve outcomes.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is medication adherence?
  • Medication adherence means taking the proper dose of medication at the right time and in the right way for as long as you're supposed to. Taking a medication incorrectly or not at all can render the drug ineffective, or worse, have a negative effect on your health.
  • How can patients help improve medication adherence on their own?

  • Patients can help improve adherence by understanding how their medications work, taking their medications at the same time(s) each day, using notes or alarms as reminders to take medications, and allowing family or friends to help support them.

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