Can digital solutions really help medical adherence?

Medication adherence

The relationship between a doctor and a patient relies heavily on trust, truth, and collaboration and aims at achieving mutually ascertained treatment goals and the medical regimen. In the words of WHO, medical adherence is the extent to which a person’s behaviour corresponds with the agreed recommendations from a healthcare provider. In simple words, this includes a patient taking prescribed or suggested medication, following a diet, or executing lifestyle changes to cure certain medical conditions and keep up with good health. While it may not sound like a cause of worry or a topic for serious discussion, adherence is a significant issue that keeps the medical fraternity worried.

The issue of medical non-adherence is relatively common, especially among patients with a chronic condition. In many countries, even the most developed ones, only around half of the patients with chronic diseases take their medications as instructed. People miss doses, take drugs at wrong times and irregular intervals, or do not take them at all. Not many realize that it can have severe and long-term outcomes on patients’ health. Unfortunately, this lack of adherence can account for treatment failures, deaths, and increased hospitalizations year on year. [1]The nature of non-adherence is multifactorial. It is compounded by multiple barriers that are patient-related, provider-related, treatment-related, or also at times influenced by the health system. A low adherence rate in chronic conditions is associated with poor outcome and decreased quality of life, which constitutes an additional burden and a serious economic impact on the healthcare systems. First, there is the cost of wasted medication, particularly the one that has been prescribed but not taken. Then comes an increased and added expense in treating the after-effects of the worsening diseases. These additional costs can be easily avoided if there is proper treatment adherence. 

Over the years, measuring medical adherence has been done through directly observing patients and pill counting. [2]Adherence has also been measured through outcomes such as serum drug concentration levels to more technical methods like clinical and administrative research data, registries, patient and provider surveys, self-report questionnaires, electronic and paper medical records, and pharmacy records etc. As technological innovations continue to transform health care, many pharmacists and other providers are increasingly looking at digital solutions for improving medication adherence among their patients. This approach that could be in the form of phone apps to technology in pills, blends in with today’s digital world, where more and more people use smartphones, health apps and activity tracking devices.

Digital solutions for medical adherence allow for a comprehensive approach to managing treatments and medication while extending full support to patients throughout their healthcare journey. It also goes a step ahead and offers strategies, including education, motivation, support, monitoring, and evaluation, that can positively impact patient care. In turn, these strategies reduce spending, streamline operations, and increase collaboration to improve adherence and long-term health outcomes. Treading fast on the roads of innovation, tech companies have created various digital devices and platforms aimed at boosting adherence.

Take a look at some of these and how are they trying to help the cause:

  1. Mobile medical apps that alert patients on their medications, record their history, mark appointments. Some also keep track of blood pressure and movements. These are cost-effective and sometimes free. 
  2. Smart pill bottles are new entrants in the pharma tech market that can track when patients take their medications through sensors in the bottle or the cap. The cost of theses bottles can quickly add up for those who take multiple medications. While these devices can track the pills’ movements in and out of the bottle, they cannot track whether the medicine was consumed at all.
  3. High-tech smart package devices act as reminders for patients and track the dispensed doses. They are handy for patients with multiple medications, and many a time can be integrated with drugs packaged by a pharmacy. Although useful, these can be quite expensive. 
  4. Smart pill dispensers are devices that dispense medication along with integrating home voice assistants, remote access to health care professionals, and other activation features. These again can be quite expensive.
  5. A step ahead in technology, the Bio-ingestible sensors are devices that are embedded onto an oral drug that, when dissolved, sends an alert to a patient’s smartphone and doctors. This is done via a wearable patch that indicates that the patient has taken his or her medication. 

Medication adherence is a growing concern for doctors, healthcare systems, and other stakeholders because of mounting evidence that it is widely prevalent, increasing rapidly and associated with adverse outcomes and higher costs of care. Digital technology could be vital in improving medication adherence and collecting objective, real-time data. The pharma industry can use these to create services for both patients and physicians, providing education and information and empowering people to manage their health. These can be integrated with clinical strategies for identifying and addressing the underlying causes of medication non-adherence. While these are significant breakthroughs in the healthcare world, a lot more work, research and innovation is needed to make its potential a reality. 

By working together with digital technology companies, pharma and biotech can make the most of these opportunities to improve patients’ outcomes, support time-pressured physicians, and create a return-on-investment treatment. This may be particularly important for chronic diseases and symptomless conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and asthma. Using the medication adherence tools would enable the patients to be on top of their schedules, appointments, assessments, and content information regularly and accurately measure adherence, track adverse outcomes, and increase patient engagement. This, combined with digital health advancements, would allow patients’ most significant benefits, and prove cost-effective for the providers.

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At the end of the day, what we need to drive are efforts that would enable patients, providers, and pharmacists to be more in touch than ever before. Thereby facilitating medicine adherence.