Social Support Networks Can Improve Medication Adherence

 In Improving Health, Medication Adherence

The cost of medication non-adherence is significant in terms of loss of life and monetary costs. According to the CDC, 20 to 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled, and in about 50 percent of cases, medication is not continued as prescribed.

Study after study shows a strong correlation between treatment, non-adherence and illness relapse rates. When patients don’t take their medications, they get sicker. According to analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, non-adherence costs U.S. healthcare providers anywhere between $100 and $289 billion each year, and non-adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of treatment failures and 125,000 deaths annually.

According to a recent study by researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in conjunction with CVS Caremark, one solution to non-adherence is having access to social support networks — both face-to-face and online. These social networks can improve medication adherence with practical support from family and friends — such as help with reading labels, filling pill boxes and transportation. This supports can be a simple and cost-effective way to improve medication adherence and chronic disease management for patients, the study concluded.

According to one of the researchers, Niteesh K. Choudhry MD, PhD, associate physician, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor, Harvard Medical School, “The growing popularity of online social networking has raised the question of how social connectedness can impact a person’s health and whether it plays any role in improving medication adherence.” Choudhry commented that research suggests that leveraging a patient’s existing social contacts and networks to help them with the practical aspects of being adherent, such as providing transportation to the pharmacy or picking up medications for the patient, could be both an effective and cost-effective way to help improve adherence.

Healthcare industry researchers reviewed 50 peer-reviewed articles that directly measured the relationship between medication adherence and four categories of social support. They found that these four areas of social support significantly improved medication adherence:

  1. Structural support — marital status, living arrangements and size of the patient’s social network
  2. Practical support — helping patients by paying for medications, picking up prescriptions, reading labels, filling pill boxes and providing transportation
  3. Emotional support — providing encouragement and reassurance of worth, listening and providing spiritual support
  4. Combination support — any combination of structural, practical and/or emotional support

Sixty-seven percent of the articles evaluated found that there was a significant association between practical social support and improved medication adherence. This leaves little room to doubt the efficacy of social support in improving medication adherence.


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