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Enhanced Medication Adherence: 10 Practical Tips

5 min read

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by Dr. Kurt Hong

Woman taking multiple medications

Medicines work only when you take them as instructed, and you play a central role in maintaining and enhancing medication adherence. 

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Understanding Medication Adherence and Non-Adherence

Medication adherence is when you take your medicine as prescribed by your provider or instructed by a pharmacist. It means sticking to your medication routine. There are five important Rs to keep in mind:

  • Right dose
  • Right time
  • Right way
  • Right frequency
  • Right duration 

Studies have shown that medication adherence is crucial to improving treatment outcomes, lowering costs, and reducing hospitalizations. Unfortunately, medication non-adherence is pervasive in the US. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [1]:

  • Patients do not fill about 25% of new prescriptions
  • The majority of patients with long-term conditions don’t take the prescribed medications after 6 months
  • Only half of individuals taking high blood pressure medications continue taking them as part of their long-term treatment.

Medication non-adherence is a serious issue, accounting for nearly 40% of chronic disease treatment failures and 125,000 deaths each year. In older adults, non-adherence is responsible for about 10% of hospitalizations [1,2].

There are two types of medication non-adherence: 

  1. Primary non-adherence: This is when you never fill a prescription. 
  2. Secondary non-adherence: This occurs when you fill a prescription but don’t take your medication as prescribed. 

Several factors can contribute to non-adherence, such as:

  • Illiteracy
  • Side effects
  • Polypharmacy (regular use of 5 or more medications)
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Cultural or religious beliefs
  • Lack of knowledge about treatment alternatives 
  • Mental health problems, such as depression and memory problems
  • Cost and access

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Enhanced Medication Adherence: Top 10 Expert-Recommended Tips for Patients

Woman sorting pills into medical pill boxes.
  1. Establish a routine. Take your medicine at around the same time each day. To reduce the likelihood of forgetting, integrate your dosing schedule with daily activities like brushing your teeth or having a meal. If you choose mealtime, check with your doctor or your pharmacist if you should take your medication before or after a meal. 
  2. Leverage tools and technology. Pill organizers, reminder apps, or alarms can help you remember to take your doses at the prescribed times. Some apps have pill-identification features, allowing you to differentiate between medications based on color, shape, and size. 
  3. Talk to your provider. If you have concerns or don’t understand your prescription, speak with your provider. Before calling them, make a list of questions to ask. 
  4. Talk to your pharmacist. Ask questions about your medications, potential side effects, and whether they can interact with other drugs or dietary/herbal supplements.
  5. Ask for help. If you need assistance taking your medication or remembering your doses, seek support from your family, friends, or caregivers. 
  6. If you are traveling, keep additional medicine with you. When flying, be sure to keep your medicines in your carry-on bag. Doing so will prevent your medication from being lost or damaged inside the cargo hold. 
  7. Set refill reminders. They can help you remember to refill your prescription in advance so you won’t run out of essential medicines. You can also contact your pharmacy about possible auto-refill options.
  8. Keep a “medicine calendar” with your pill bottles and record each time you take your dose. This is particularly useful for patients who need to take medication a few times during the day.
  9. Use a pill container. Refill it at around the same time every week. Another option is to use timer caps for your pill bottles. Set the timer to go off when it’s time for your next dose.  
  10. Simplify your regimen. Sometimes, remembering to take all your medication regimens can be overwhelming. Ask your provider if it is possible to simplify the regimen. Solutions can include combining medicines into a single pill or adjusting dosing schedules. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the five dimensions of medication adherence?

According to the World Health Organization Multidimensional Adherence Model (WHO-MAM), the five dimensions that influence medication adherence are [3]:

  1. Patient-related factors, such as perceived health benefits and knowledge of medicines
  2. Socioeconomic factors, such as family functioning/support and costs
  3. Treatment-related factors, such as side effects
  4. Condition-related factors, such as co-existing medical issues
  5. Healthcare system/team-related factors, such as pharmacy access

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What is the difference between medication adherence and compliance?

Though used interchangeably, adherence and compliance are different. Adherence is a patient’s active choice to follow instructions while being responsible for their well-being. It is more patient-centered. Compliance is a passive behavior in which a patient follows a doctor’s instructions. It is more doctor/provider-centered. It is important to prioritize medication adherence.

What are the aims of medication adherence?

Medication adherence aims to improve treatment outcomes, lower the risk of treatment failures, and reduce costs. 

Use MedBox To Enhance Medication Adherence

You can get all your medicines every month in the mail with the revolutionary medication management service MedBox. Notably, all medicines are packaged in individual packets exactly how you take them, leaving little room for non-adherence. Highly qualified pharmacists at MedBox meticulously inspect each medication before it is packaged. 

MedBox uses customized packaging with the date and time for each dose (along with the name, strength, and quantity of tablets inside) stamped on each packet. So, you are unlikely to miss your dose if you use this service. Learn more about MedBox


  1. “Why You Need to Take Your Medications as Prescribed or Instructed.” U.S. Food And Drug Administration, 16 Feb. 2016, www.fda.gov/drugs/special-features/why-you-need-take-your-medications-prescribed-or-instructed#. 
  2. Iuga, Aurel O, and Maura J McGuire. “Adherence and health care costs.” Risk management and healthcare policy vol. 7 35-44. 20 Feb. 2014, doi:10.2147/RMHP.S19801
  3. Mondesir FL, Levitan EB, Malla G, Mukerji R, Carson AP, Safford MM, Turan JM. Patient Perspectives on Factors Influencing Medication Adherence Among People with Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and CHD Risk Factors. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2019;13:2017-2027, https://doi.org/10.2147/PPA.S222176

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