Measuring the multiple domains of medication nonadherence: findings from a Delphi survey of adherence experts

Transl Behav Med. 2021 Feb 11;11(1):104-113. doi: 10.1093/tbm/ibz133.


Consensus on a gold-standard measure of patient medication nonadherence has been elusive, in part because medication nonadherence involves multiple, distinct behaviors across three phases (initiation, implementation, and persistence). To assess these behaviors, multiple measurement approaches may be needed. The purpose of this study was to identify expert-recommended approaches to measuring nonadherence behaviors. Thirty medication nonadherence experts were e-mailed two consecutive surveys. In both, respondents rated their agreement with definitions of nonadherence behaviors and measurement approaches. In the second survey, respondents rated the suitability of each measurement approach for assessing each behavior and identified the optimal measurement approach for each behavior. Consensus was achieved for eight patient medication nonadherence behaviors: not filling initial prescription and not taking first dose (noninitiation); refilling prescription late, missing doses, taking extra doses, taking doses at wrong time, and improperly administering medication (incorrect implementation); and discontinuing medication early (nonpersistence). Consensus was achieved for seven measurement approaches: self-report, prescription fill data, pill count, drug levels, electronic drug monitoring (EDM), smart technology, and direct observation. Self-report questionnaires were most commonly rated "at least somewhat suitable" for measuring behaviors. EDM was rated as optimal for measuring missing doses, taking extra doses, and taking doses at the wrong time. Prescription fill data were rated as optimal for not filling initial prescription, refilling late, and discontinuing. Direct observation was rated as optimal for measuring improper administration. Suitable and optimal measurement approaches varied across nonadherence behaviors. Researchers should select the measurement approach best suited to assessing the behavior(s) targeted in their research.

Keywords: Measurement; Medication nonadherence; Qualitative methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Consensus
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence*
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires