What Are The Top Barriers to Medication Adherence?

December 13, 2018 Jenny Glennon, PharmD, RPh


Today, 82% of adults in the U.S. regularly take at least one medication, while 29% take five or more. Unfortunately, many aren’t taking them as prescribed.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 33% - 66% of all medication-related hospitalizations that occur in the U.S. are caused by poor medication adherence. Furthermore, half of patients with chronic conditions do not take their medications as prescribed, and close to 30% never even fill them.

In this new blog series, we will explore the top barriers to medication adherence and discuss which approaches and tools can help to overcome each one. 

Top Barriers to Medication Adherence

Through one-on-one telephonic health coaching, Health Dialog identified the top barriers to medication adherence for a long-standing client. The barriers outlined below are the same as those Health Dialog has identified for other client populations, but the percentage breakdown often changes from one client to the next. Barriers to proper medication adherence are as unique as the individual, thus every population is also unique. Some patients may be struggling with more than one of these barriers.

  • 47% - Time Management: includes forgetfulness, lack of a medication- taking routine, no pill box or medication planner
  • 11% - Lack of Knowledge: includes not understanding a medication’s proper use, correct instructions, reason for taking it, and side effects; also, not understanding the benefits of taking a medication, consequences of non-adherence, and general health literacy
  • 8% - Provider Issues: trust and communication can be a barrier to medication adherence; also, a provider may verbally change directions of a prescription, forget to refill a prescription, be unavailable or difficult to reach
  • 6% - Lack of Motivation: difficulty staying motivated can affect long-term medication adherence
  • 5% - Side Effects: experiencing side effects as well as fears, beliefs, and concerns
  • 3% - Physical Limitations: reliable transportation, inability to drive, lack of social support or help getting medications, and getting to and from the pharmacy
  • 3% - Cost / Financial:  the cost of prescription medications, healthcare services, or cost of living that prevent the purchase of prescription medications

Understanding how each individual in your population is impacted by these barriers is critical to improving medication adherence results and reducing healthcare costs. In the coming weeks, we will address the specifics of these medication adherence barriers and discuss the tools and resources that can be used to help patients overcome them.

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