A Hard Pill to Swallow

Aug 01, 2009

each year, the pharmaceutical industry loses billions of dollars due to patients skipping out on their treatment regimens. It's estimated that 20 percent of patients do not follow their prescriptions as directed, and even fewer see therapies through to completion. And the situation seems to be getting worse.

"I wouldn't say the industry as a whole is trying harder to ensure that patients remain compliant," says cognitive psychologist Andrea LaFountain, founder and CEO, Mind Field Solutions. "I think industry has an understanding that something more rigorous is required, and its at the point where [pharmaceutical companies] are trying to assimilate research and data points from a myriad of different programs to figure out where they're going wrong."

LaFountain notes that there has been significant spending to remedy poor adherence, but it's marginal compared to the billions spent on direct-to-consumer advertising. The consensus is that pharma is trying to find solutions to the problem, but those solutions are not getting through to the market.

"It's a lose-lose situation for everyone when a doctor spends time diagnosing a disease and puts a patient on a medication, and then they quit taking it," says Jonothan Tierce, a general manager at IMS Health. "You spend all that money getting to the first scrip, and the patient doesn't even get it filled a second time. That's unacceptable."

"Adherence to medication is like the elephant in the room," says Colleen McHorney, senior director, outcomes research group, Merck. "Patients don't talk about it with their doctors and doctors don't talk about it with their patients."

There are, however, a handful of pharma companies making a difference in adherence. Whether it's using the Internet to establish data-driven compliance programs or hiring peers to guide patients through the start of a treatment, these programs are helping cut through the confusion associated with staying on treatment—and saving industry millions in the process.

Here, Pharm Exec takes a look at some of these innovative adherence programs to find out what these companies are doing differently, and more importantly, why these programs are working.

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