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mHealth Scores High With Consumers in Boosting Medication Adherence

A recent survey conducted for Express Scripts finds that those using prescribed medications would like mHealth tools, such as apps and wearables, to help them improve adherence.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Consumers are looking to mobile health tools, such as mHealth apps and wearables, to improve their medication adherence.

A recent study of some 800 prescription medication users, conducted by Russell Research for Express Scripts, finds that roughly half believe mHealth technology would help them become more adherent – and one-third of those would be more likely to use them if the tools were set up for them.

With experts suggesting at least half of the nation’s medication users aren’t taking their drugs as prescribed – costing some $300 billion a year in avoidable healthcare expenses, or $1,000 per person – medication adherence is a significant issue, and one that healthcare experts have vowed to tackle more aggressively.

“This survey shows that while patients with chronic diseases know that medication is critical to their treatment and health, they don’t always act on that knowledge,” Snezana Mahon, PharmD, vice president of St. Louis-based Express Scripts Clinical Solutions, said in a press release. “Given the huge cost of nonadherence to an individual patient’s health, as well as to the country as a whole, it’s essential for patients and clinicians to work together to find solutions to help overcome barriers to adherence.”

Those taking medications would seem to agree. Almost half of those surveyed said taking their drugs as prescribed is the most important part of their health regimen, a percentage higher than those selecting a routine check-up (30 percent).

READ MORE: mHealth Messages Get High Grades in Medication Adherence Study

And they seem interested in improving their habits: 56 percent said reminders would more likely help them improve adherence, and 19 percent said those reminders would definitely help them.

That’s where mHealth comes in.

“The three main drivers of non-adherence come from cost, clinical or behavioral reasons,” said Kyle Amelung, PharmD, BCPS, a senior clinical consultant on Express Scripts. “All three can be solved for through mobile health tools.”

Younger consumers are particularly interested in mobile health technology: 74 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 believe such tools would help them, and half would be more likely to use the technology if it was set up for them. Among those age 35-54, the percentages were 62 and 46, respectively.

“We believe success comes from getting within the patient’s flow and reminding them about their health when and how the patient prefers,” Amelung said. “Most people view mobile devices as a personal productivity tool that can be used to check the news, connect with friends or get the score of the game. Incorporating these devices into taking better care of yourself is a logical position – but people still don’t want to be ‘nagged’ by family or friends about their health.”

READ MORE: Express Scripts Looks To mHealth Gaming to Boost Medication Adherence

That point was also made in the survey: 27 percent said they would most not want to be reminded to take their medications by a health device, while 40 percent said a spouse or partner would be most bothersome and 31 percent said the same of a friend. In each case, respondents felt that they’d be nagged by those prods and end up resenting the reminders.

Amelung emphasized that mHealth alone won’t solve the medication adherence issue.

“The key to mHealth tools is partnering them with a live clinician that can oversee the data, flag high-risk patients, and intervene as appropriate,” he said. “Technology is not the solution; technology is the means to an effective solution. … To truly affect change, any proposed solution must be partnered with live clinical support to answer any questions and provide specialized guidance to the patient.”

The survey also shed some interesting light on prescription habits.

More than half of those surveyed feel they’re doing better at sticking to their prescriptions than others – including 60 percent of seniors. And more respondents were unconcerned about missing a medication (31 percent) than were extremely or very concerned (29 percent).

READ MORE: The Evolving Role of mHealth in Medication Management and Adherence

Among other results:

  • 67 percent would be motivated by a reward to take their medications as prescribed.
  • 82 percent would be motivated to take their medications by a financial reward, while 15 percent chose points toward a merchandise purchase and 3 percent selected a charitable contribution.
  • Only 33 percent understand the financial significance of medication adherence; 35 percent believe the annual cost to healthcare runs about $150 billion (or $500 per person), while 19 percent put that figure at $25 billion ($75 per person) and 12 percent said the cost was around $8.3 billion, or $25 per person.
  • 44 percent cited side effects as the primary reason for not taking medications as prescribed; 28 percent picked inconvenience and 21 percent said they stopped taking their drugs because they were feeling better and felt they didn’t need to continue the prescription.

Amelung said some of the survey’s results surprised him.

“One of the most surprising findings was that two-thirds of those polled say they are more likely to take better care of their health and adhere to their medications when rewarded for their efforts,” he noted.  “We all want to be in optimal health, but this data point supports the long-standing belief that only the potential of better health outcomes is not sufficient in getting patients to make the best decisions and take the appropriate actions for their health.”

“In today’s world, the distractions of the moment often get in the way of pursuing what's in the best interest of our care. We sometimes forgo scheduling or keeping doctor appointments. We skip necessary lab tests or our annual flu shot. Many of us forget to refill our medication or we don’t remember to take it every day.  … For most of us, engaging in the right daily behaviors to improve our health is a challenge because these actions fall out of our normal routines and habits - and so, we skip them. Knowing that there must be something more for the patient to obtain and that financial rewards are an effective way to motivate patients, we can offer specific carrots to incentivize healthier actions and lead to decrease costs in the healthcare system.”

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