Collaborate With Physicians!

Pharmaceutical companies invest enormous resources and take enormous risks to make the products that can improve patients’ lives. But to get patients well, creating miraculous drugs is only the first step. Another major hurdle is getting patients to take the medication that their doctor has prescribed.

Adherence As A Priority

Everyone in the healthcare system wants patients to get well. The many stakeholders include patients, their families, employers, insurers, government, physicians, nurses, hospitals, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies. And all these stakeholders agree wholeheartedly on one thing, we need to do: Get patients to take their medication, both compliantly and persistently.

Pharmaceutical companies can do things to promote adherence, but they can’t solve the whole problem on their own. Making medications that are more forgiving of poor adherence may help some. And making medications that are easier to take and have fewer side effects helps, too. But when it comes to getting patients to take their medications regularly, there is only so much that manufacturers can do on their own. Beyond that, partnerships are needed if drug manufacturers want to make an impact on patients’ adherence behaviors.

Pharmacies: Natural Partners

Pharmacies are natural partners whose incentives for patients to adhere to treatment are well aligned with those of pharmaceutical manufacturers. Arranging for patients who are on multiple medications to sync their refills so that all medications are refilled at the same time can help. It is also critical to ensure that financial barriers don’t stop patients from purchasing medication. Pharmacies are also in a position to provide patients individualized education about the benefits of good adherence and the potential risks of poor adherence to treatment.

When it comes to improving patients’ adherence, pharmaceutical companies have one hand (maybe two) tied behind their backs because the public doesn’t place a huge trust in these companies. In my book Compartments, the reason why people often mistrust others is described in detail. The everyday normal things that happen—like millions of individual people living longer, having healthier lives and having better function, all because of drug therapy—simply don’t make the cover of the newspaper because they aren’t news. The outlandish negative outliers are news, poisoning people’s perceptions of pharmaceutical companies, not to mention every other group.

Getting past the selection bias in the news is a hard nut to crack! People naturally believe what they see, and what they see are the outliers, not the everyday, mundane good things that are so pervasive as not to be news.

Despite appearances, most people still do love and trust their own doctors (even if they’ve come to doubt the trustworthiness of doctors in general). Partnering with doctors is the logical lynchpin for improving adherence, and we’ll explore that further next time.

  • Steven Feldman, M.D.

    Dr. Steven Feldman is Professor of Dermatology and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Steve studies patient adherence at North Carolina’s Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. He is also Chief Science Officer of Causa Reseach, an adherence solutions company (, founder of, and author of “Compartments” and “An Illustrated Dictionary of Behavioral Economics for Healthcare Professionals.”


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