Why is medication adherence so difficult?

Taking medication is a regular part of life for those diagnosed with a chronic illness. But did you know that consistently failing to take medications at the right time and in the right way causes just as much medical disaster as the condition it is supposed to treat?

Research from the CDC shows that 50% of chronic condition medications are not taken as prescribed, and that poor medication adherence plays a part in 125,000 deaths per year[1]. Sticking to a prescription may sound simple to do, but if so, then why is medication non-adherence such a prevalent issue?

The Causes

Understanding how to improve medication adherence means understanding the underlying causes, of which there are several. One survey of 10,000 patients[2] found that the most commonly reported factor in missing medications was simply forgetfulness. Other common factors were concern over side effects, and the perception that taking the medication would not be effective anyway.

Other research suggests that low health literacy is also partly to blame. According to the New England Journal of Medicine[3], approximately 77 million Americans possess only a basic level of health literacy. For these people, reading and understanding medication labels (which are notoriously confusing and poorly standardized) is particularly challenging, especially for those with multiple prescriptions for multiple conditions. Different medication therapies often have unique characteristics — such as varying frequencies and timings of doses, number of pills required per dose, and different side effects associated with each medication — which can be difficult to balance. Conflicting requirements complicate things further and make medication dosages harder to schedule, such as when one medication says to “take with food” while another says to “take on an empty stomach.” For these reasons, the use of more than three medications by a single person is considered to be a major barrier to proper medication adherence.

What You Can Do

The FDA advises the following actions to help in consistently taking medications as prescribed[4]:

  • Take your medication at the same time each day.
  • Take your medication at the same time as when you perform another daily routine, such as when brushing your teeth or going to bed.
  • Keep a medication schedule and make a mark for each dose once it is taken.
  • Use a pill container and refill it at the same time every week.
  • Bring extra medication with you when traveling in case there is a delay in returning home.

TruSense can help by providing a platform that encourages a proactive approach to proper medication adherence. The user-friendly TruSense Dashboard allows you to store information about all of your prescribed medications, including medication name, photograph, special instructions, side-effects, and schedule. The system will alert you when it is time to take one of your medications. These reminders will include the name of the medication along with the photo and instructions, which can be marked as “taken” when you are done. These alerts can also be sent to those with whom you’ve designated to share the information, giving you a record of your adherence while providing peace of mind to loved ones and/or caregivers. TruSense takes the guesswork from the act of taking your medication and ensures that you are taking the right medications, the right way, and at the right time.


[1] https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/specialfeatures/ucm485545.htm

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934668/

[3] https://catalyst.nejm.org/optimize-patients-medication-adherence/

[4] https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resourcesforyou/specialfeatures/ucm485545.htm