The theoretical basis for practice-relevant medication use research: patient-centered/behavioral theories

Res Social Adm Pharm. 2011 Dec;7(4):317-29. doi: 10.1016/j.sapharm.2010.11.001. Epub 2011 Jan 26.


Background: There is an urgent need for research to improve the quality of medication use among those who require pharmacotherapy.

Objective: To describe how behavioral science theories can help to achieve this goal.

Methods: We begin by describing what a theory is and the functions that theories serve. We then provide 8 guiding principles that are crucial for investigators to understand if they are to use theory appropriately. We conclude by discussing the need for a new model of patient medication self-management that incorporates information concerning factors operating at all levels of the ecological framework, ranging from patient-level to societal-level factors.

Results: The 8 guiding principles discussed are the following: (1) There is no single theory that is appropriate for guiding all medication use research; (2) Behavioral science theories are probabilistic, not deterministic; (3) When trying to influence a health behavior, the health behavior of interest must be defined precisely; (4) Many factors outside of patient control influence patient medication use; (5) Every patient is unique; (6) Patient motivation is a fundamental ingredient required to optimize medication use, especially when maintenance of long term behavior is the goal; (7) Health care providers can have a profound effect on patient medication use, and this effect can operate through several possible causal pathways; and (8) When planning an intervention to optimize medication use, it is important to develop a conceptual model that links intervention inputs to the ultimate outcomes that are desired.

Conclusion: Medication use can be influenced by a wide variety of factors acting at different levels of the ecological model. The quality of research on medication use could be improved by development of an ecological model specific to medication self-management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavioral Sciences / methods
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Motivation
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Research Design*
  • Self Care / psychology


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations