Forgetting Your Medication - 5 Surprising Facts

Pam Swingley

May 4, 2010

Forgetting Your Medication - 5 Surprising Facts

In 2007 there were more than 10,000 prescription drugs and biologics on the U.S. market, and more than 300,000 over-the-counter medications. The United States has become a highly medicated country. In fact, 27% of the population takes at least five medications a week. Taking all of this medication has led to a huge medication management problem. When patients don't take their pills as prescribed, they don't become well, or get sicker, and in some cases, they die. The cost of medication noncompliance is astronomical, and much of this burden is carried by employers who offer health insurance. So, why do people not take their medications as prescribed? Here are five surprising facts about medication compliance.

1. We All Forget

Remembering to take your pills is a problem for everyone. It's not just for Bob who has high cholesterol or Michelle with diabetes, or 85-year-old Erma who takes twelve different medications each day. It happens to all of us.

The Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive poll reported that that one in three adults took a prescription drug on a regular basis, but did not follow their doctor-recommended course of treatment. And, two-thirds of adults reported they simply forgot to take their medication.  Look around your office. Your employees are a busy bunch, trying to maintain a balance between their work life, bills, children, spouses, parents and more. It's not so hard to believe that one out of three of your employees is forgetting to take their pills or mismanaging their medication in one way or the other.

2. Shocking Cost of Noncompliance

Taking medications incorrectly is an extremely expensive and dangerous problem. The chance of a severe medical complication or even death, increases dramatically. Studies show that the total annual healthcare costs in the U.S., resulting from medication noncompliance ranges from $177 billion to $300 billion. Sadly, many of these cost can be prevented by taking medications correctly.

3. New Employee Health Priorities

Employers, faced with escalating healthcare costs, have started to pay more attention to the cost-savings benefits of medication compliance. According to a 2009 study by the Benfield Group, 95% of employers surveyed said they were taking some sort of action to address compliance. Their focus was on more sophisticated interventions that connected education and support resources for individuals not adhering to their prescribed treatments. Wellness programs are one way to reduce healthcare costs, but adoption can be slow. Simply helping employees remember to take their pills, especially those with chronic diseases, can be a fast way to improve health and reduce healthcare costs.

4. Managing with Mobile Health

One reason that people forget to take their pills is because traditional reminder aids are not very helpful. Pill boxes are bulky. Alarm watches and special pill-dispensing devices are indiscreet, or overly complicated. Sticky notes have significant shortcomings, and often don't stick around till the end of the prescription. And nagging, "did you take your pills today?" drives everyone nuts. Traditional reminder methods don't fit well with active lifestyles, and don't support the complex medication schedules many people follow today. To be effective, medication reminders must fit seamlessly into your employees’ lifestyle.

This is where the ubiquitous cell phone comes in. Eighty-two percent of Americans own one and it's always close at hand. It's an ideal device to receive electronic reminders to take a medication, check your blood sugar, or go to an appointment. Mobile reminders have been proven to help improve medication management and lower health care costs. In the 2003 Division of Medical Services report by the State of Missouri, the average monthly Medicaid costs for diabetic patients with reminders was $949.00 compared to $1,233.00 without reminders. And according to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatric liver transplant recipients had a 69% medication compliance rate with SMS reminders vs. 48% compliance rate without SMS reminders.

5. Smart Phones, the Ultimate Reminder Solution

The next generation of cell phones is the smart phones. With the ability to act like a PC and browse the web, smart phones have a wide appeal because of their ability to do so much. According to a report by Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley, 74% of the population will have a smart phone by 2014. This means employees will have more control over their own health with the rapid increase in mobile health applications.

With a smart phone, employees can not only receive medication reminders, but can monitor their blood glucose levels or other biometrics, receive wellness tips, participate in exercise challenges and have their personal health record in the palm of their hand. All of these technological adoptions can vastly improve employee health and retain the costs of health care.

Choosing Your Mobile Medication Reminder Service

If you decide to provide or recommend a reminders service for your employees, you should consider how easy it is to use. If it's not designed from the patient's perspective, it's not going to be used. Select a reminder service that has features your employees need for their own health. It's also important to make sure that the service is reliable and secure. Be wary of a company without a revenue model it's not going to be able to invest in technology that improves reliability. Look for things such as: password protection, care communities with different administration and privilege levels controlled by the main user, tier 1 data hosting, audit trails, inactivity time-out, and HTTPS transmissions.

Support and availability of the service are one of the most crucial factors when hiring any type of company; so it's essential to look for the same qualities when buying a medication reminder service. Check out whether the company has online, phone, or email support. Do they offer secured account sharing available for tricky support questions? Is their service available from the desktop as well as smart phones? For maximum flexibility the service should be available from any browser and "in the cloud" to support employees at home, at work, or on the go.

No two people have the same medication schedule. Medication reminder services should be flexible enough to accommodate all types of medications, oral, patch, injection, supplements and more. Ask yourself if the service is flexible enough to support medications taken at different times of the day or if it can support changes in time zones. If the service allows you to add special instructions to the reminder, that's even better!

Medication reminders only play a small role in the overall eHealth solution. If you find a service that goes beyond reminders and offers employees the opportunity to record prescription information, track their medication history, share reports with doctors, get reminders for events, print a wallet list, and more; use it. An investment in the health of your employees is an investment in your company's future.

Pamela Swingley is CEO & Founder of RememberItNow! She designed RememberItNow! to help her father, and millions of others who take multiple medications, take control of their health. Prior to founding RememberItNow! Pam worked as a marketing executive for several B2B software companies including, ADP, Siebel Systems, ClearBenefits, Gate58 Marketing and OnLink Technologies. She is passionate about building software that leverages the latest technology, while being simple to use. Pam holds an MBA from St. Mary's College, and a BS in human development from the University of California, Davis.

About The Author

RememberItNow! makes eHealth easy. Designed from the patient's point-of-view, it is simple to schedule medication reminders, maintain a personal health record, and create a care community. Getting started is fast and free at www.RememberItNow.com. RememberItNow's patient-centric SaaS platform is also available to healthcare providers, employers, and long-term care facilities. RememberItNow! was founded in 2009. The company is privately held and headquartered in Orinda, CA.