A medicine only keeps you healthy if you take it.
That's a simple truth. Still, the reality is, many people still don't. Nearly half of people don't take their medicines as prescribed, representing 93 million people in the U.S. Globally, this is a massive medical challenge preventing people from living their healthiest lives. In diabetes, up to a third don't even get their medicines to start with.1 Research also suggests 24% of American patients who suffer a heart attack do not fill their medications within seven days of discharge2.
Treating "The Other Half of Patients"
These shocking statistics led us to ask ourselves some tough questions:
What is our role as a global healthcare company?
Do we simply provide treatments to treat disease?
Or do we have a responsibility to ensure individuals maximize the potential of their treatment?
There's no denying: the world's population is getting older. With age comes an increased likelihood of chronic conditions. Non-communicable diseases kill more than 41 million people every year. Three quarters of these global NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries.3 If we look at the U.S. alone, there is a high price for poor adherence, with 125,000 preventable deaths every year, more than three times the American deaths caused by car accidents. It's clear we have a serious pandemic on our hands. Every year, new blockbuster drugs are launched to help manage these diseases, but the numbers don't seem to be going down.4
The World Health Organization sums it up neatly: If everyone who was prescribed medicines took them as intended, the impact on health overall would be far bigger than any improvement in specific medical treatments.
The Reasons Are As Complex As We Are
Yet, many don't, can't, or won't take medicines properly. Logically, we all know we should follow our doctor's directions and take our medicine for the treatment to work the way it’s supposed to. Real life is a bit more complicated.
And this isn't a blame game.
For some, it's beliefs and concerns about the medication itself and potential side effects.
For others, it's an issue within their culture or what they've read on the Internet.
In many low to mid-income countries, people don't feel they can ask their doctor for help, especially when medical consultations can last fewer than five minutes as it does for half the world’s population.
So, what's the solution?
According to the WHO report, "health care providers can learn to assess the potential for non-adherence, and to detect it in their patients. They can then use this information to implement brief interventions to encourage and support progress towards adherence."
This is exactly the approach we are taking.
Cracking The Code of Non-Adherence
We realized good health is about more than just treating diseases.
It's about treating people.
It's about communication, about doctors and patients understanding each other better, and about helping build better habits.
We asked ourselves: If doctors had better insight into how people feel about taking their medicines, could they make the process more effective? If we had more understanding on the reasons why people were scared, unable, or unwilling to take their medicines, could we do something to help them feel in control of their own healthcare?
And that's how we came up with a:care.
In creating a:care, we worked with the brightest brains in behavioral science, a specialized discipline which helps us understand why people think and do the things they do. With their counsel, we've developed a pioneering program to help patients take back control over their own health.
If patients are not taking their medicine as they should, the doctor can prescribe them the a:care app, which is currently only available outside the U.S.
"The app acts like a personal motivational coach," said Prof. John Piette. "It motivates patients using behavioral science methods, reminds them to take medication as prescribed, and can help to visualize progress."
The a:care medical program is endorsed by more than 44 leading medical societies ranging from the International Society of Hypertension to the European Atherosclerosis Society and the International Society of Gynaecological Endocrinology.
And it's not just about patients.
Since 2020, we've facilitated more than 100 master classes, educating and informing more than 45,000 healthcare professionals on how they can use behavioral science to support people on their journey to better health.
And recently, close to 10,000 healthcare professionals from across 107 countries joined the first global medical Congress on medication adherence and behavioral science. The event convened world-renowned experts from different therapeutic areas to share their knowledge, experiences, and patient insights about medicine adherence.
No matter where someone is in the world, we believe people can have better, fuller lives through the power of health. To ensure people do as well as they can with the therapy prescribed by their doctor, patients should be included in decision-making process, feel in control of managing their disease, and understand the fundamental importance of taking their medicine in the right way.
And we want to be there, supporting them, every step of the way.
1 Khan, R. and K. Socha-Dietrich (2018), "Investing in medication adherence improves health outcomes and health system efficiency: Adherence to medicines for diabetes, hypertension, and hyperlipidaemia", OECD Health Working Papers, No. 105, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/8178962c-en.
2 Jackevicius CA, Li P, Tu JV. Prevalence, predictors, and outcomes of primary nonadherence after acute myocardial infarction. Circulation. 2008;117(8):1028-1036. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.107.706820
3 Edelman SV, Polonsky WH. Type 2 Diabetes in the Real World: The Elusive Nature of Glycemic Control. Diabetes Care. 2017;40(11):1425-1432. doi:10.2337/dc16-1974.
4 Type 2 Diabetes in the Real World: The Elusive Nature of Glycemic Control. Edelman SV, Polonsky WH. Diabetes Care. 2017 Nov;40(11):1425-1432. doi: 10.2337/dc16-1974. Epub 2017 Aug 11.