Objectives: To propose standardized methods for measuring concurrent adherence to multiple related medications and to apply these definitions to a cohort of patients with diabetes mellitus.
Study design: Retrospective cohort study of 7567 subjects with diabetes prescribed 2 or more classes of oral hypoglycemic agents in 2005.
Methods: For each medication class, adherence for each patient was estimated using prescription-based and interval-based measures of proportion of days covered (PDC) from cohort entry until December 31, 2006. Concurrent adherence was calculated by applying these 2 measures in the following 3 ways: (1) the mean of each patient's average PDC, (2) the proportion of days during which patients had at least 1 of their medications available to them, and (3) the proportion of patients with a PDC of at least 80% for all medication classes. Because patients taking multiple related medications have distinct patterns of use, the analysis was repeated after classifying patients into mutually exclusive groups.
Results: Concurrent medication adherence ranged from 35% to 95% depending on the definition applied. Interval-based measures provide lower estimates than prescription-based techniques. Definitions that require the use of at least 1 drug class categorize virtually all patients as adherent. Requiring patients to have a PDC of at least 80% for each of their drugs results in only 30% to 40% of patients being defined as adherent. The variability in adherence is greatest for patients whose treatment regimen changed the most during follow-up.
Conclusions: The variability in adherence estimates derived from different definitions may substantially impact qualitative conclusions about concurrent adherence to related medications. Because the measures we propose have different underlying assumptions, the choice of technique should depend on why adherence is being evaluated.