More Employers Are Taking Steps to Improve Medication Compliance

More employers are taking steps to improve their employees’ health by making sure they take their medicines as prescribed, a move that could stave off more serious and costly health consequences, according to a newly published report sponsored by the National Pharmaceutical Council (NPC).

Medication compliance, sometimes referred to as medication adherence, is simply following a medicine treatment plan developed by an individual’s health care provider, filling prescriptions, and taking medications as prescribed. While this may sound easy enough, research shows that as many as 50% of patients are non-compliant. Reasons for lack of compliance, according to recent patient surveys, include concerns about side effects, medication expenses, and ending the use of medications early because patients felt better.1

And the NPC report, “Employer Medication Compliance Initiatives,” which for the first time surveyed employers’ views and strategies on compliance, says 89% of employers acknowledge its importance to employee health. Only preventive care and lifestyle behaviors were rated more highly.

Medication compliance has long been acknowledged as a serious problem for the American health care system, costing billions of dollars in lost productivity, additional doctor visits, preventable hospitalizations and nursing home admissions, and even premature death. In fact, a New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI) study found that otherwise avoidable medical spending resulting directly from non-compliance accounts for up to $290 billion per year, or 13 percent of total health care expenditures.2

NPC survey respondents – who included benefit directors, medical directors and other health management professionals with health management and pharmacy benefit decision-making authority or influence in large, self-insured corporations -- are particularly concerned about chronic diseases, which is why diabetes is a key focus of medication compliance initiatives. Other chronic conditions that warrant employer attention are high cholesterol, blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

To improve compliance, 95% of employers surveyed for the report say they are taking action, and the trend is toward more sophisticated interventions including employee education and additional prescription reminders by e-mail.  Employers are often using their vendors to play a key role in analysis and intervention, with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and employee benefit consultants (EBCs) most often cited. Additionally, employers believe that focused and more sophisticated interventions from vendors are the most effective, with the highest ratings coming from those that focused on individuals with compliance issues and Value-Based Benefit Designs, which lower compliance barriers for high-value services.

Through this survey, employers have acknowledged that medication compliance is a key issue in health care management. It’s encouraging to learn that employers are taking important steps to help employees and their families take their medications as prescribed so that they can remain healthy and productive.

The full report, along with PowerPoint slides, is available at

1 New Survey: More Than Half of Americans Do Not Take Prescription Medicines as Instructed, Pointing to Growing Public Health Problem,, accessed November 23, 2009.

2 Ibid.