3 tools to improve med adherence and safety at home

Blog-Feature Article

Help patients safely stay on track with their prescriptions

In brief:

  • Patients’ failure to take medications as prescribed leads to up to $300 billion in avoidable healthcare costs annually.1
  • Teaching patients to use technology and other tools at home can improve adherence and help avoid unsafe usage of medication.

Patients don’t properly take about half of the 3.8 billion prescriptions written annually in the United States.2 They may not take the right dose, at the right time, or for the proper length of time.

That failure causes an estimated 125,000 deaths each year and 10% of hospitalizations.3

As a pharmacist, your role in ensuring that patients have the right medications and take them properly helps minimize side effects and safety issues. Specific actions you can take to improve adherence and safety after patients take drugs home include:

  1. Offer adherence packaging. For patients with complex regimens, plastic pouches with the date and time for each dose, or blister packs, make taking the right pills at the right time easier. For simpler regimens, offer pill organizers.

    Additionally, a variety of timer caps for prescription bottles are available now. They may simply tick off the number of hours since the last dose. More advanced versions record the dose and time taken, and alert the patient when the next dose is due.4

    Whatever system patients use, remind them of the need to safely store all of their medications.

  2. Train patients to use reminders. Show them how to use the Health Mart® app or their mobile phone to alert them when it is time to take and to refill a prescription. Text messages can double patients’ medication adherence, researchers have found.5
    pill-reminder              refill-reminder

    You also can counsel patients on behaviors that can improve adherence, such as pairing a medication with an activity they already do daily. So, for example, they may take the pill with their first cup of coffee in the morning or when they brush their teeth before bed.

  4. Encourage care journals. A written record can help every patient keep track of their medication usage. This ranges from an exhausted single parent treating a sick child over a few days to multiple caregivers providing long-term care for a senior family member.

    Show patients how to record the doses they take and track other information in one place. A care journal can be as simple as sheet of paper. Or, it can be a notebook a patient carries to doctors’ offices, or an electronic record. Patients and their caregivers can also use journals to jot down questions for pharmacists or prescribers, and to track data such as daily blood pressure results.

By teaching patients about the benefits of adherence packaging, reminders on the Health Mart app and care journals, pharmacists can continue to play a critical role in helping improve patient adherence while also helping ensure patient safety.


1 “Adherence and Health Care Costs,” Aurel O. Iuga and Maura J. McGuire, Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, Feb. 20, 2014. LINK
2 “CDC Grand Rounds: Improving Medication Adherence for Chronic Disease Management — Innovations and Opportunities,” Andrea B. Neiman et al., Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Nov. 17, 2017. LINK
3 “The Cost of Not Taking Your Medicine,” Jane E. Brody, The New York Times, April 17, 2017. LINK
4 “How Pill Bottles Can Deter Opioid Misuse and Abuse,” Christine Blank, Drug Topics, April 17, 2017. LINK
5 “Let’s Talk: Medication Adherence,” Kelsy Combs and Jennifer Kim, Pharmacy Times, July 26, 2017. LINK