What are validated self-report adherence scales really measuring?: a systematic review

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2014 Mar;77(3):427-45. doi: 10.1111/bcp.12194.


Aims: Medication non-adherence is a significant health problem. There are numerous methods for measuring adherence, but no single method performs well on all criteria. The purpose of this systematic review is to (i) identify self-report medication adherence scales that have been correlated with comparison measures of medication-taking behaviour, (ii) assess how these scales measure adherence and (iii) explore how these adherence scales have been validated.

Methods: Cinahl and PubMed databases were used to search articles written in English on the development or validation of medication adherence scales dating to August 2012. The search terms used were medication adherence, medication non-adherence, medication compliance and names of each scale. Data such as barriers identified and validation comparison measures were extracted and compared.

Results: Sixty articles were included in the review, which consisted of 43 adherence scales. Adherence scales include items that either elicit information regarding the patient's medication-taking behaviour and/or attempts to identify barriers to good medication-taking behaviour or beliefs associated with adherence. The validation strategies employed depended on whether the focus of the scale was to measure medication-taking behaviour or identify barriers or beliefs.

Conclusions: Supporting patients to be adherent requires information on their medication-taking behaviour, barriers to adherence and beliefs about medicines. Adherence scales have the potential to explore these aspects of adherence, but currently there has been a greater focus on measuring medication-taking behaviour. Selecting the 'right' adherence scale(s) requires consideration of what needs to be measured and how (and in whom) the scale has been validated.

Keywords: adherence scales; adherence tools; medication adherence; questionnaires; surveys.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Self Report*