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February 11, 2015
Non-adherence undermines drug plans

Non-adherence to prescriptions is costing Canada’s health care system $4 billion per year, a Sun Life report says.

According to its report entitled Take your pills – Gaining the benefits of improved drug adherence, up to five per cent of hospital admissions and doctors’ visits can be traced to improper use or neglect of prescription medications.

“Not taking medications as prescribed can be a major public health problem,” says Sun Life Director of Pharmaceutical Benefits Jean-Michel Lavoie.  “Those who stop taking their medicine could face reduced health and wellbeing and, potentially, unnecessary hospitalization.”

For employers, prescription non-adherence can result in increased drug benefit costs as well as increased employee absenteeism and disability claims.

“There’s no question that the health and wellbeing of patients could be positively affected if more people took their medication as prescribed,” Mr. Lavoie says.

Those with mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia have a greater risk of relapse or medical complications when they fail to take medications as prescribed, the Sun Life report says.

Knowing why people go off their medications could ultimately improve patient outcomes, the report suggests.  Negative side effects are the single largest reason for non-adherence.  If a drug restricts a person’s lifestyle or leads to other physical or mental health issues, patients are more likely to change their consumption patterns or stop taking the drug altogether.  Complicated packaging or treatment patterns can also discourage appropriate drug adherence, the report says.

The nature of an illness can also change drug taking patterns, the report says.  Illnesses that display few or no symptoms or have symptom-free periods or remissions can also result in patients changing their consumption patterns.

Knowing these and other variables at the time of prescription could result in improved drug adherence, the Sun Life report suggests.

“Over the long term, increased drug adherence can provide a significant benefit to patients, employers and the Canadian health care system,” Mr. Lavoie says. “Increasing engagement and education surrounding drug adherence will result in a reduction of many additional costs that benefits plans and employers may be absorbing.”

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