The pharmaceutical industry currently faces policy and regulatory uncertainty, but one thing that won’t change is how medication non-adherence negatively impacts health outcomes and costs. While some healthcare stakeholders have given solid attempts at resolving this problem, many continue to debate about what moving the needle will really take—and who is responsible for paying for it.
The problem with medication non-adherence appears simple—research has shown that taking drugs as prescribed lowers total healthcare costs by an amount that exceeds the costs of the drugs themselves.  However, the problems associated with medication non-adherence are unfortunately not as simple as costs versus outcomes, because they also have a direct impact on other stakeholders, including pharmaceutical manufacturers. A report from HealthPrize Technologies and consulting company Capgemini indicates that pharmaceutical manufacturers in the US may lose up to $250 billion in revenue each year due to medication non-adherence for chronic illnesses. 
So, if everyone agrees that improving medication adherence would have a positive impact on patient outcomes and healthcare costs, why does it continue to be an ongoing problem? While many problems in healthcare benefit from all stakeholders working together for sustainable improvements, pharmaceutical manufacturers should feel empowered to lead the charge. This will help prevent downstream problems that could impact their organizations. Some strategies that manufacturers can explore to promote medication adherence from the beginning include:
- Changing the focus of consumer marketing. Traditional direct-to-consumer marketing around pharmaceuticals is aimed at getting the patient to the initial prescription, but a shift in messaging that emphasizes the importance of taking medications as prescribed could make a big difference in influencing consumer behavior. Pharma advertisers spent $5.4 billion in 2015, tying the previous industry record set in 2006, according to data from Kantar Media.  How would it impact patient behavior if even a small percentage of that marketing budget was spent on advertisements that encouraged medication adherence and the benefits of continuing treatment?
- Offering financial incentives that encourage positive behavior. Offering consumers financial rewards for behaviors that benefit them and the manufacturer are a tried and true method for moving the needle, in any industry. For pharma, discounts and rebates that reward customers for medication maintenance, such as filling prescriptions for multiple months at once, can help with encouraging initial behavior change that can be sustained throughout the course of treatment as outcomes improve.
- Improving patient education and support throughout treatment. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are not alone when it comes to improving patient education and helping to encourage patient adherence to treatment after prescriptions are filled. The rise of healthcare technology allows manufacturers to partner with companies that can build custom health coaching programs that combine with flagship products to become digital therapeutics. These companies help with ongoing patient and caregiver education that goes beyond the pharmacy and into the context of the patient’s daily life—which has a stronger impact on sustainability to any medication treatment plan.
In addition to the above tactics, further collaboration between pharma and other healthcare stakeholders will make improvements faster and more effective. Traditional methods such as caregiver support and increased patient-provider engagement are important, but leveraging technology and other patient engagement approaches may mean seeing improvements sooner. For example, many consumers are now used to technology playing a larger role in their daily lives, and as a result, patients may be more receptive to pharmaceutical manufacturers playing a larger role in their overall health.  The days when pharma manufacturers are on the sidelines are limited—it is time for them to be on the forefront of patient adherence so that everyone in healthcare will benefit in the end.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chase Hensel is CEO and co-founder of Welkin Health (San Francisco, CA; welkinhealth.com), the adherence platform for life sciences that improves outcomes for people living with chronic disease.