Opportunities to improve medication adherence

April 1, 2024

Strategies for your senior patients

One essential component of improving your senior patients’ health and well-being is ensuring they take their medications as prescribed. You already know the upside of medication adherence. Conversely, poor adherence results in up to 69 percent of medication-related hospital admissions in the U.S. and at least 125,000 deaths annually.1

But it’s not always as simple as whether patients take their medications, because adherence isn’t a black and white issue. Plenty of grey areas exist, including patients who split pills or who might not even fill a newly prescribed medication. In fact, the results of one study showed that up to 31 percent of new prescriptions for diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia go unfilled.2

Top reasons for nonadherence

Patients don’t take their medications as prescribed about half the time. Reasons include:

  • Fear. Worry and concern about potential side effects can affect adherence. 
  • Cost. A prescription’s high price might lead to rationing or not filling it at all. Prescription abandonment rates are less than 5 percent when there is no out-of-pocket cost; it rises to 45 percent when the cost is over $125 and 60 percent when the cost is more than $500.2
  • Lack of symptoms. An asymptomatic patient might not understand the need for medication.
  • Mistrust. A patient might believe the provider is prescribing a drug to receive an incentive from the manufacturer.
  • Mood disorders. People with depression tend to be less adherent.

What you can do

Here are some tips to help improve medication adherence rates among your patients.3

Use easy-to-understand language to ask if the patient realizes the benefits of the medication and whether they have any concerns.Creates trust and a blame-free environment to talk about medication issues at each patient visit.
Educate patients on new medications. Encourage them to useapps, digital health tools, and electronic pill boxes to help them stay on track.Teaches patients about side effects and the importance of not skipping doses.
Prescribe a 90-day or 100-day supply (depending on your market).Reduces the chance of missing days between refills.
Consider home delivery. Express Scripts® Pharmacy, our home delivery pharmacy.Makes it convenient to receive prescriptions.
Prescribe generic when possible.Improves medication compliance by making the cost more affordable.
Prescribe sufficient refills.Helps patients avoid missed days while waiting for refill authorizations.
Avoid variable dose regimens.Prevents patients from taking less than the minimum daily dose.
Develop a patient pain plan. Have an open conversation to discuss the benefits, risks, and alternatives before prescribing opioids.Helps patients buy in to and adhere to the treatment plan when it’s tailored to their lifestyle and unique health care needs.  
Be sensitive to the timing of the last refill of the year. Use tools like medication-assisted therapy or look at pharmacy claims feeds.Helps patients avoid refill authorization delays during the holidays.
Follow up. Continue the conversation to assess medication adherence, address concerns, and reinforce the importance of compliance.Improves adherence. Patients are 20 times more likely to refill late medications and three times more likely to end the year adherent.4

Provider resources

Our pharmacy quality improvement team offers clinical programs to support your treatment plans, including:

  • Medication therapy management. This program improves medication therapy outcomes by identifying gaps in care, reducing barriers to accessing needed medications, and addressing adherence. It’s offered at no cost to your eligible patients.
  • Case management pharmacy referrals. Our pharmacy case management teams conduct comprehensive medication reviews for high-risk patients, including those recently discharged from inpatient care or with potential medication-related issues.
  • Drug utilization reviews. Our Part D prescription drug formulary provides a comprehensive list of medication therapies that consider product safety and utilizes logical algorithms to proactively identify and alert a dispensing pharmacist of potential risks.

The Cigna Healthcare Medicare Advantage Part D Partnership Guide contains information on these and other resources for providers. Visit the Cigna Healthcare Medicare Advantage provider website at MedicareProviders.Cigna.com > Pharmacy Resources > Part D Stars Quality Overview > Part D Partnership Guide.

  1. “8 reasons patients don’t take their medications.” American Medical Association. 22 February 2023. Retrieved from https://www.AMA-ASSN.org/delivering-care/patient-support-advocacy/8-reasons-patients-dont-take-their-medications.
  2. “Contributor: Medication Adherence is Not a Zero-Sum Game.” American Journal of Managed Care. 5 April 2022. Retrieved from https://www.AJMC.com/view/contributor-medication-adherence-is-not-a-zero-sum-game.
  3. “Fostering Medication Taking Tips and Tricks.” Diabetes Educator. 2020. Retrieved from https://www.DiabetesEducator.org/docs/default-source/living-with-diabetes/tip-sheets/medication-taking/fostering_med_adherence.pdf?sfvrsn=4.
  4. “Reach for the Stars: Medicare Advantage Part D Partnership Guide.” Cigna Health Medicare Advantage. Retrieved from MedicareProviders.Cigna.com/static/medicareproviders-cigna-com/docs/part-d-stars-partnership-guide.PDF.

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