Just how big is the medication non-adherence problem? Is it more prevalent in one country than another? Or, is it a sweeping universal challenge faced by all healthcare systems worldwide? Let’s have a look.
US, Iran and Japan, UK and Brazil
According to the New York Times, medication non-adherence costs the US healthcare system almost $300 billion dollars a year. One of the main costs is from not taking a medication for a chronic disease, resulting in hospitalization. Just above the border, a report in Canada shows that 80% of patients taking only one medication a day have good medication adherence. In contrast, patients who take medications 4 times a day, have a much reduced 50% medication adherence rate. On the other side of the globe, a study done in Iran shows 90% of patients in that country have low medication adherence. From a study done in Saudi Arabia, it has been reported that 54.8% of diabetic patients have low adherence to oral hypoglycemic medications. In Egypt, there is a report of low adherence (ranging from 71.7% to 79.4%) in asthma and COPD patients. Japan has a 58% non-adherence rate and in patients over 65 years old and in Thailand, they have medication non-adherence ranging from 26% to 59% with 10% of hospitalizations and 28% of nursing home admissions due to medication non-adherence. According to the NHS, medication non adherence costs the UK £500 million with one out of five people there not taking their medications as prescribed. South of the equator, the situation is very much the same. Brazil reports low adherence for a third of its patients with chronic diseases. Across the Atlantic Ocean, in Ghana and Nigeria, there is a reported 66.7% non-adherence rate to antihypertensive medications.
It is overwhelming from the statistics that remembering to and how to take our medications is a problem faced by countries worldwide – irrespective of culture, geography or politics. No matter how you look at it, we are all in this together and we need to find a way to fix this problem to save lives and healthcare systems money.
It seems as if a huge advancement in helping patients in their adherence and overall health is through technology. One recent solution for this worldwide problem is the new PillPack that Amazon just announced it will acquire. This may give an answer to various medication delivery issues and could make it easier for the patient to get his meds, but this is only part of the solution. Other medication packaging and delivery methods are available in a similar scale around the world as well, most use multi-dose blister packs, but there are many other medication adherence challenges that could potentially be addressed by technology and are not yet dealt with in large scales like these.
When we zoom out and take a hard look at the complete picture, drug delivery is only a fragment of the bigger problem. There are bigger fish to fry- what about patient education and literacy? Supporting the patient journey by supplying answers to different treatment aspects such as: side effects, complex regimens, contradicting meds, forgetfulness, encouragement and so on…?
Just like any other global disease or issue, medication non-adherence is taking the lives and health of many. After many years of experience in this field, I take pride seeing this need being tackled by many companies, as well as investors during the past few years. We can finally see the awareness growing. Although this is a worldwide issue, and it cannot be solved overnight, it is satisfying to see that we are on the right track and the use of technology to answer this issue is getting more and more common by the day.