Studies into the habits of medicated patients constantly deliver the same results; around 50% of people will not take their medication properly. It doesn’t matter what the condition or the risks, patients simply struggle to follow a doctor’s advice, when medication is concerned.
An estimated 130,000 Americans died last year of heart failure, after failing to take their prescribed, preventive pills. The numbers are frightening and new research has been trying novel ways to reduce these unnecessary deaths.
The University of Connecticut have collected data from 21 separate studies, which focused on the application of incentives for regular medication-takers. The patients involved were all prescribed different medication for a variety of illnesses, including HIV, schizophrenia and tuberculosis. Those who took their drugs in the appropriate moments, at the appropriate times were rewarded with food vouchers, travel tickets, clothing or money.
Unsurprising, perhaps, the collated data showed that patients were most likely to keep taking their medication properly if they received $50 a week, in return. The data also showed that the longer the treatment period (and, therefore, the longer the reward-giving period), the more likely the patients would take the medication. Weekly payments were also the most effective manner of payment.
In one of the studies, patients were offered around $280 if they took all of their HIV medication over a month period (equating to a figure between $2 and $10 for each dose, depending on the medication). 90% of people on the incentive scheme took their medication, compared to 69% of people who weren’t.
In another study, patients with TB were treated over a 9 to 12 month period. Of those offered $5 every time they visited the clinic, 64% completed their treatment, in contrast to just 27% of people who received nothing. This small monetary reward doubled the success rate of the clinic.
The incentive schemes obviously come at a cost. The data also shows that reward schemes become harder to manage when a patient has to take life-long medication. In these cases, a buddy or mentor system may be best, which can be just as effective as ‘money for medication’, in certain scenarios.
However people are convinced to take their medication, it’s clear that the effort and expense is worth it. Not only does it prevent avoidable deaths, but it also prevents hardened strains of viruses emerging.
Patients who take medication and then stop before the end of their course, may just help their virus become resistant to the drugs. With it still in their system, that patient then becomes a carrier, passing the hardened version of the illness onto others. This would be much, much harder to treat and causes great concern for wider public health.
Image courtesy of Geograph.org.uk
Dr Evelyn Smith works as a consultant for NexusDMS a leading British designer and manufacturer in a huge range of specialist-care products and accessories.