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Enhancing Patient Compliance: Strategies for Improved Health Outcomes
Primary Care

Enhancing Patient Compliance: Strategies for Improved Health Outcomes

Published: 25/04/2024

Written by: Creyos

Healthcare is a collaborative process between physician and patient. A provider can make the best recommendations to address a patient’s particular needs, but it’s up to the patient to follow those instructions in their everyday life once they leave an appointment. 

That’s what patient compliance is all about. But how many patients actually follow their doctor’s advice? The answer depends on many factors, including patient demographics, the physician-patient relationship, and the quality of education the physician provides the patient. 

According to research published in Oman Medical Journal, an average of 45% of elderly patients are compliant with following medication recommendations from their physician. Only 50% of patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension are compliant with their medication regimens, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Enhancing patient compliance improves individual health outcomes—and it can also improve the overall quality of healthcare. In this article, we discuss the obstacles to patient compliance and what healthcare providers can do to improve communication, education, treatment plan follow through, and more.

What's the Difference Between Patient Adherence and Patient Compliance? 

Patient adherence and compliance are often used interchangeably. In some cases, they have different connotations for active versus passive behavior, respectively.

For the purpose of this article, we use the terms synonymously, with compliance referring to the active choice patients make to follow through with their physician’s prescribed treatment while taking responsibility for their own well-being.

So, What is Patient Compliance?

Patient compliance refers to the degree to which a patient correctly follows their physician’s medical advice. It includes medication or drug compliance, as well as medical device use, self-care, self-directed exercises, or cognitive assessments. 

According to a comprehensive review of the literature, patient compliance is a critical factor associated with successful treatment outcomes. Examples of how physicians try to improve compliance include: 

  • Improving patient education practices

  • Reducing barriers (e.g. simplifying medication packaging

  • Enhancing the physician-patient relationship 

  • Setting reminders and one-to-one communications

For many patients, the first step in improving compliance is realizing their own role in managing their health. This understanding forms the basis for patient education initiatives designed to improve patient compliance by imparting knowledge about disease processes, treatment options, and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

To learn more about increasing compliance with better patient communications, read about the email feature in Creyos: Five Ways to Increase Compliance When Administering Cognitive Assessments Via Email  

Many tools to monitor individual health require patient compliance, especially those that can be used outside the clinic. For example, cognitive assessments are an effective tool used to measure patient cognitive performance, and track the efficacy and impacts of treatments such as medication. For that reason, patient compliance plays an important role in the performance accuracy and usefulness of cognitive assessment. The reports generated from these assessments are also useful in improving patient compliance, such as by identifying where clearer education may be necessary. 

Several strategies have been identified to increase compliance when administering cognitive assessments. For example:

  • Remote onboarding processes

  • Videoconferencing to regularly observe patients

  • Adjusting email subject lines and copy to increase relevance and create urgency

What is Patient Noncompliance?

Simply put, patient noncompliance means that a patient doesn’t follow a physician’s guidance. There are many reasons patient noncompliance might occur, including:

  • Misunderstanding

  • Miscommunication

  • Capacity or resource limitations (e.g. prohibitive cost of medication)

  • Individual constraints (e.g. memory problems)

  • Inconsistency (e.g. patient stops treatment or medication after starting)

Research has shown that non-compliance is directly associated with poorer treatment outcomes in various conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, AIDS, asthma, hypertension, and organ transplants. When patients do not take their medications as prescribed, it can lead to increased hospitalizations and healthcare costs, according to this article.

Patient non-compliance also poses a significant financial burden on the healthcare system. Studies have shown that the direct healthcare costs associated with medication non-compliance are estimated to be between $100 and $300 billion annually. 

Importantly, it bears noting that patient compliance does not involve coercing patients to meet a specific standard or disregarding their concerns. Healthcare is a collaborative process, and healthcare providers have a significant role in helping patients overcome obstacles to compliance, such as lack of understanding or fear of medication side effects.

Obstacles to Patient Compliance

Patients have reported the following barriers to noncompliance:

  • Complex medication routines 

  • Poor health literacy 

  • Lack of understanding of treatment benefits 

  • Undiscussed side effects 

  • Poor treatment satisfaction 

  • Cost of prescription medication

A patient’s cognitive and emotional state can also affect compliance. According to research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, cognitive and emotional factors influence the success of treatment for chronic pain. This includes how well patients stick to their medication protocols.

Addressing these factors may be the first step to enhancing patient compliance. By facing these challenges head-on, healthcare providers can help patients overcome barriers and move toward better health outcomes.

Why Does Patient Compliance Matter?

The significance of patient compliance lies in its direct impact on health outcomes. According to research on the subject, patient compliance may be crucial for reducing:

  • Symptoms

  • Disease complications

  • Mortality rates

  • Hospitalizations

  • Emergency room visits

  • Wasted medication

Enhanced compliance may lead to increased life expectancy, improved morbidity, empowerment, self-confidence, satisfaction, and better quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. Conversely, noncompliance can lead to treatment failure, disease progression, and a decrease in patient quality of life, according to research.

Below we’ll outline some examples of patient compliance in the context of cognitive assessment, non-pharmacological treatment, and medication—and how physicians can support patients in following their guidance.

Examples of Patient Compliance

Cognitive Assessment

Patient compliance is key when it comes to cognitive assessment. When patients reliably participate in these evaluations, healthcare providers can obtain detailed data on cognitive function, which is essential for diagnosing conditions like dementia or tracking the progression of neurodegenerative diseases. 

Noncompliance can result in delayed diagnosis and treatment, negatively impacting the patient's health trajectory. In the context of computerized assessment, not completing testing may be one example of noncompliance. The reasons for such noncompliance may include misunderstanding instructions, experiencing difficulties with technology, or a distracting environment. 

There are a number of ways to improve compliance in this scenario, including having a technician available for support, choosing a user-friendly platform, and having auditory instructions included in the platform. 

Self-guided cognitive assessments available through Creyos can be administered in the comfort of patient’s homes, creating an engaging and enjoyable experience for patients which may improve compliance.

Non-Pharmacological Treatment 

Patient compliance is also crucial in medical treatment plans that do not involve medication. Examples can include physical therapy for injury rehabilitation, dietary changes for weight management, or cognitive behavioral therapy for mental illness. Noncompliance with non-pharmacological treatment can prolong recovery, exacerbate symptoms, and increase the risk of complications.

Imagine a patient who, instead of following a physiotherapist's regimen for knee rehabilitation, decides to improvise their own workout, potentially delaying recovery or worsening their condition. Or consider someone ignoring dietary advice after a cardiac event, risking further health complications. 

These examples underscore the importance of compliance across all forms of treatment, not just those involving medications. It's essential for healthcare professionals to communicate the significance of these non-pharmacological treatments and to provide support and resources that encourage patients to adhere to their recommended care plans.

Medication and Compliance 

According to research published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 50% of patients do not take their prescribed medications as directed, and most will stop the treatment as soon as they feel better. 

Noncompliance can lead to ineffective treatment, the emergence of drug-resistant strains of infections, or even life-threatening situations in the case of conditions like hypertension or coronary heart disease. It’s also associated with increased healthcare costs due to hospital readmissions and additional treatments.

While the negative implications of noncompliance are dire, the good news is that improving patient compliance can reverse these outcomes. Below, we start by addressing the challenges to improving patient compliance and then offer solutions.

Read more: Pain Management Education for Patients: A Pain Care Provider Toolkit 

Improving Patient Compliance

Enhancing patient compliance might appear intimidating, but it’s an achievable objective. With the right strategies and a patient-centered approach, healthcare providers can significantly enhance patient compliance.

Clear communication is one of the most effective methods to enhance patient compliance. Patients need to understand:

  • Their health condition

  • The benefits of their prescribed treatment

  • The consequences of non-compliance

  • The steps involved in their care

This communication begins during the initial medical encounter with a primary care physician and continues through follow-up appointments and visits.

Four Steps to Improve Compliance

Improving patient compliance can be achieved through various strategies. Here are some effective approaches:

1. Increase Patient Education

Patient education is a crucial component of improving patient adherence. Providing patients with detailed, easy-to-understand information about their condition and treatment can increase their engagement and adherence to the treatment plan. Examples include written materials, educational videos, or interactive online resources. For pharmacological interventions, a better understanding of the medication, as well as their motivation and beliefs about the prescribed treatment can help mitigate poor compliance.   

According to a study published in The American Journal of Medicine, patient education promotes patient-centered care and increases adherence to medication and treatments. 

2. Reduce Barriers to Compliance

Understanding and acknowledging the potential barriers that reduce patient compliance is essential to improving overall compliance. Research indicates that patient non-adherence to treatment recommendations can be as high as 40% to 70%, particularly for complex regimens or lifestyle changes. 

Major barriers to compliance include:

  • Complex medication regimens 

  • Poor health literacy

  • Lack of understanding of treatment benefits

  • Undiscussed side effects

  • Poor treatment satisfaction

  • Cost of prescription medicine

However, it’s important to note that other barriers, such as patient motivation, depression, denial, cognitive impairment, drug or alcohol use, or culture, can also impact compliance.  

Adherence rates for most medications to treat chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension usually fall in the 50% to 60% range, even among patients who have good insurance and drug benefits, according to research published in the Permanente Journal

3. Improve Patient Adherence

Simplifying treatment regimens can also improve compliance. Examples of best practices, when possible, may include healthcare providers opting for once-daily dosing, combination pills, or long-acting formulations to make it easier for patients to adhere to their prescribed medication regimen. Using pill counts and other measure compliance tools can aid in this process.

Improved medication packaging, such as blister packs and dosage strips, have been shown to significantly improve patient compliance. One analysis found that transitioning to simplified packaging resulted in a mean adherence rate of 71% compared with just 63% among control subjects. Additionally, packaging interventions using pill boxes and blister packs have been widely recommended to address the medication adherence issue. 

4. Use Reminders and One-on-One Interactions

Reminders via text messages, emails, and calls can help patients remember their treatment regimens—just be sure to get them to opt-in and consent to receiving messages. 

Establishing a supportive and cooperative healthcare environment can notably enhance patient compliance. By fostering a patient-physician relationship that respects the patient’s autonomy and encourages active involvement in their care, healthcare providers can increase patient satisfaction and improve adherence outcomes.

Lastly, using behavior modification strategies can help improve compliance. This could include:

  • Setting realistic health goals

  • Providing positive reinforcement for adherence

  • Using reminder systems to help patients remember their medication doses and appointment times

Ensuring Patient Compliance with Cognitive Assessment Tools

In the realm of cognitive assessment, ensuring patient compliance can pose unique challenges. However, with the right tools and support, healthcare providers can successfully navigate these challenges and ensure effective and accurate assessments.

There are a few notable blocks when assessing cognitive decline in patients. For example, many patients resist exploring memory concerns altogether—perhaps because of the nature of these concerns and because testing can be time-intensive and complex. 

Technology can also be an intimidating factor and an accessibility barrier for older patients. Performing a cognitive assessment on a computer can create stress that affects their mindset. There are also limited tools available for evaluating cognitive impairment, identifying the specific areas of decline and measuring treatment efficacy for patients.

With Creyos, medical providers can implement a robust battery of cognitive assessments on tablets, creating a comfortable environment for patients with the support of a technician. Up to 99% of patients complete cognitive assessments when adopting this method. This allows practitioners to measure early signs of mild cognitive impairment and communicate in detail to patients. The gamified user experience of Creyos tasks eases anxiety while capturing detailed information on the patient’s cognitive performance. Patients generally say they’re fun to complete.

Learn how Yukon Neurology achieved 99% patient compliance for cognitive assessment using Creyos.

Achieving Better Patient Outcomes Collaboratively

Patient compliance is vital for realizing the best health outcomes. Resolving non-compliance requires increasing patient education, reducing barriers to compliance, simplifying medication plans, and using consented reminders.

Patient compliance isn’t just about following a treatment plan. It’s about:

  • Understanding the importance of that plan

  • Feeling empowered to participate in one’s care

  • Having the resources and support necessary to adhere to the prescribed regimen

In this respect, health professionals play a crucial role in promoting and supporting patient compliance.

Understanding the challenges to patient compliance is a critical step toward improving it. By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, healthcare providers can help patients overcome these barriers and move towards better health outcomes.

Thus, in our pursuit of superior healthcare, let’s prioritize patient compliance. With the right strategies and the right tools, like Creyos, we can make patient compliance the norm, not the exception.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is patient compliance in healthcare?

Patient compliance in healthcare, also known as patient adherence, refers to a patient’s active choice to follow a list of instructions or prescribed treatment from a doctor.

How does a healthcare provider check patient compliance?

A healthcare provider can measure patient compliance by administering self report questionnaires, conducting a biological lab or pill counts, using remote monitoring tools, and simply talking to a patient.

What does poor patient compliance mean?

Poor patient compliance means the patient's behavior does not match the prescriber's recommendations. It can indicate many things about the patient’s experience: confusion, a lack of involvement in their own wellbeing, miscommunication. Non compliance can have negative consequences for a patient’s treatment, but providers should seek to understand a patient’s reasons for not following through. 

What are the main challenges to patient compliance?

The main challenges to patient compliance include confusion about treatment regimens, lack of adequate information about the disease or treatment, resistance to medication, and accessibility barriers. These factors can significantly impact patients' adherence to a prescribed care plan.

How does Creyos support patient compliance with cognitive assessments?

Creyos supports patient compliance with cognitive assessments by providing user-friendly tools and resources that facilitate assessment completion, even at home. This helps ensure a comprehensive solution for patient compliance.


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