Background: People who are prescribed self-administered medications typically take less than half the prescribed doses. Efforts to assist patients with adherence to medications might improve the benefits of prescribed medications, but also might increase their adverse effects.
Objectives: To update a review summarizing the results of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of interventions to help patients follow prescriptions for medications for medical problems, including mental disorders but not addictions.
Search strategy: We updated searches of The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (IPA), PsycINFO (all via OVID) and Sociological Abstracts (via CSA) in January 2007 with no language restriction. We also reviewed bibliographies in articles on patient adherence and articles in our personal collections, and contacted authors of relevant original and review articles.
Selection criteria: Articles were selected if they reported an unconfounded RCT of an intervention to improve adherence with prescribed medications, measuring both medication adherence and treatment outcome, with at least 80% follow-up of each group studied and, for long-term treatments, at least six months follow-up for studies with positive initial findings.
Data collection and analysis: Study design features, interventions and controls, and results were extracted by one review author and confirmed by at least one other review author. We extracted adherence rates and their measures of variance for all methods of measuring adherence in each study, and all outcome rates and their measures of variance for each study group, as well as levels of statistical significance for differences between study groups, consulting authors and verifying or correcting analyses as needed. The studies differed widely according to medical condition, patient population, intervention, measures of adherence, and clinical outcomes. Therefore, we did not feel that quantitative analysis was scientifically justified; rather, we conducted a qualitative analysis.
Main results: For short-term treatments, four of ten interventions reported in nine RCTs showed an effect on both adherence and at least one clinical outcome, while one intervention reported in one RCT significantly improved patient adherence, but did not enhance the clinical outcome. For long-term treatments, 36 of 81 interventions reported in 69 RCTs were associated with improvements in adherence, but only 25 interventions led to improvement in at least one treatment outcome. Almost all of the interventions that were effective for long-term care were complex, including combinations of more convenient care, information, reminders, self-monitoring, reinforcement, counseling, family therapy, psychological therapy, crisis intervention, manual telephone follow-up, and supportive care. Even the most effective interventions did not lead to large improvements in adherence and treatment outcomes.
Authors' conclusions: For short-term treatments several quite simple interventions increased adherence and improved patient outcomes, but the effects were inconsistent from study to study with less than half of studies showing benefits. Current methods of improving adherence for chronic health problems are mostly complex and not very effective, so that the full benefits of treatment cannot be realized. High priority should be given to fundamental and applied research concerning innovations to assist patients to follow medication prescriptions for long-term medical disorders.