The healthcare and pharmaceutical industry continues to be challenged as it relates to patient non-adherence to medical advice concerning their prescribed medications.  With their ever expanding user base, can social media platforms as well as other emerging technologies provide Pharma companies with the means towards improving patient adherence?

doctor-typing-on-laptopIn 2003, The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report noting that anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of medications prescribed to handle long term ailments were not being taken as directed by physicians.  This non-adherence to essential medications is a frequent cause of preventable hospitalizations and patient illness.  Additionally, pharmaceutical companies need to find other ways of keeping the revenue coming in beyond new prescriptions. They need to improve patients’ adherence to taking their prescribed medications. Improving patient outcomes, cutting down on the cost of hospitalizations & re-hospitalizations and contributing to the bottom line; medication adherence is a topic well worth considering while forming a social media strategy.  In this post we’ll discuss two strategies for improving patient adherence to drug regimens, reminders and patient education.

Reminders

New technologies are indeed addressing the issue of medical adherence with a few clever, innovative approaches.  Let’s take a quick look at trio of examples being used by Pharma and healthcare professionals:

-  One drug company has begun utilizing a near sentient bottle cap that emits flashing lights and ringtones as reminders, sends weekly e-mail updates to family members and orders refills from the pharmacy. In doing so they found that the use of a wireless reminder instrument led to a 27% higher rate of patients taking their medications on time. It won’t be long before your prescription medication does all of your grocery shopping!

-  The University of Iowa Children’s Hospital has turned to Facebook to remind teenagers to take their medications on time with their Iowa Medminder application. Indeed, healthcare professionals have realized that with the younger demographics, it’s not official until it’s on Facebook.

-  Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital implemented a program called CareSpeak to send text message reminders to teen-aged liver transplant recipients in order to get them to take their prescribed anti-rejection medications.

Patient Education

Medication reminders are essential, but they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Focusing on reminders alone doesn’t completely address all the factors that lead to non-adherence. Patients can often slide into non-adherence due to a simple lack of understanding of their medication regimen.

Fortunately, patient communities abound online nowadays.  If you are concerned or confused about the drug you have been prescribed, you can see how other consumers feel about it by engaging with peers across all sorts of blogs, wikis and forums devoted to all types of disease states.  Healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals have an opportunity to listen for these conversations and engage directly with these patients in healthcare discussions.

The ability to converse with other patients in these communities is an incredible means of providing people with comfort, tips on dealing with disease in their everyday life, and the knowledge that they are not alone in facing their health challenges.  Finding these online discussions will give engaged healthcare and pharmaceutical professionals a chance to add their thought leadership and subject matter expertise to the mix and likely increase patient education.  One thing that is clear is that patients today, more than ever before, WANT to better understand their health issues and their prescription medications.  And, they WANT the healthcare industry to help them understand their medical issues and be a part of their conversations as much as possible. Patients who gain a proper understanding of their condition and their prescribed drugs, before they start taking a medication, have to be considered more likely to stick with their treatments.

Medical professionals are learning to more proactively communicate with patients to educate and inform them on their diseases and their drugs. Using social media platforms as tools to provide health advice is building positive physician-patient relationships and should help to ensure that patients remain better adherent to their medications in the long run. There is no easy fix-all solution for getting patients to stick to their drug regimens. However, anything you can do to enhance medication adherence would have to be considered a plus for doctors and patients, to say nothing of the family and friends concerned about their loved one’s well being.

What social media tools do you use for reminders? Have you spotted any other examples of pharmaceutical companies or health organizations using social media to improve patient adherence? Tell us in the comments section!

Jason Boies is a member of the Radian6 Community Engagement Team.  His focus is on the worlds of Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals.  Get a prescription for Health & Pharma themed tweets by following him at @JasonBoies on Twitter (and make sure you stick to it).