What We Mean When We Talk About Adherence in Respiratory Medicine

J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2016 Sep-Oct;4(5):802-12. doi: 10.1016/j.jaip.2016.05.019.


Adequate medication adherence is key for optimal benefit of pharmacological treatments. A wealth of research has been conducted to understand and identify opportunities to intervene to improve medication adherence, but variations in adherence definitions within prior research have led to ambiguity in study findings. The lack of a standard taxonomy hinders the development of cumulative science in adherence research. This article reviews the newly established Ascertaining Barriers to Compliance (ABC) taxonomy for medication adherence with a particular focus on its relevance and applicability within the context of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease management. Building on traditional definitions and concepts within medication adherence, the ABC taxonomy considers the temporal sequence of steps a patient must undertake to be defined as "adherent to treatment": (A) initiation, (B) implementation, and (C) persistence. We explain the clinical and research relevance of differentiating between these phases, point to differences in its applicability in observational and experimental research, review strengths and limitations of available measures, and highlight recent findings on specific determinants of these behaviors. Finally, we provide recommendations for research and practice with a view to supporting and sign posting opportunities to improve future respiratory medication adherence and associated research.

Keywords: ABC taxonomy; Asthma; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); Implementation; Initiation; Medication adherence; Persistence.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • Pulmonary Medicine / classification