Be a Top-Performing Pharmacy on Star Ratings Measures: Improve Medication Adherence Rates


This is part of an ongoing series on how community pharmacies are demonstrating outstanding performance under measures that CMS uses to calculate health plans’ Star Ratings. Although pharmacies are not assigned Star Ratings, a pharmacy’s actions can have a dramatic impact on health plans’ ratings. Those ratings affect plans’ reimbursement and enrollment period.

Make it easy for patients to stay on track with coaching, packaging and medication synchronization

A study in 2012 in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimated that nonadherence costs the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion per year and possibly almost $300 billion annually. Improving adherence not only improves patient outcomes, it also saves the healthcare system money.

So, to improve the quality of care that is delivered and to try to better control costs, Star Ratings have been created to measure the performance of Medicare plans. These ratings include three measures of drug adherence — and those measures are given triple weight among all Star Ratings measures.

Adherence is measured by the proportion of days covered. This is calculated using prescription claims that show how frequently a prescription is filled. The measure calculates the percentage of health plan members who have their prescriptions filled often enough to be adherent at least 80% of the time. For example, for a patient who should be taking a medication on a daily basis, if they filled their 30-day prescription 12 times during the course of a year, this patient would be deemed as 100% adherent during the year. If the same patient had refilled their 30-day prescription only six times, they would have been adherent during those months when the prescription was filled, but would not be adherent 50% of the time.

To qualify for a five-star rating in 2014, health plans needed to have adherence levels of at least:

  • 79% for RAS antagonists in the treatment of hypertension
  • 75% for statins in the treatment of hyperlipidemia
  • 77% for oral diabetic agents in the treatment of diabetes

Improving adherence not only saves the healthcare system money, it also increases revenues for the pharmacy that fills the prescriptions, because patients receive more refills. (See “Improve Your Refill Rates and Revenue with Medication Synchronization.”)

Extending Expertise

Central Drugs in Portland, Oregon, had achieved a medication adherence rate of more than 90% for the high-risk patients it serves, such as people living with HIV and hepatitis C. By extending the practices it has used for those populations to conditions measured by Star Ratings, Central Drugs was able to rank in the top 20% of all retail pharmacies on those measures.

Central Drugs’ rolling six-month measures from May 2014 on the EQuIPP™ dashboard showed adherence of:

  • 100% for hypertension drugs
  • 100% for diabetes medications
  • 4 % for cholesterol medications

The pharmacy uses three interventions to produce better adherence:

  1. Medication synchronization. One of the many reasons for nonadherence is patients’ forgetting to refill a prescription on time. One study found that patients with chronic diseases who were enrolled in an appointment-based medication synchronization program were 3.4 to 6.1 times more likely to be adherent than patients who didn’t have synchronized medication refills.1 Central Drugs uses technology from Prescribe Wellness to keep customers on track, by arranging to refill all their prescriptions at one convenient time. (Ateb’s Time My Meds automated medication synchronization solution is another popular technology for independent pharmacies.)
  2. Adherence packaging. Studies have shown that packaging medication by dose, such as blister packs, can improve outcomes.2 Seeing whether a patient has taken a dose of medication is much easier with adherence packaging than when pills are loose in a bottle.
  3. Behavioral health coaching. Medication nonadherence can be a complex issue with overlapping causes. Telling a patient, “You need to take your medication” isn’t likely to change that person’s behavior. Instead, take time to develop a rapport with your customers, so they will feel comfortable talking with you about their medications. Once you understand the potential causes of their nonadherence, you can provide new information, such as why a patient might still feel fine if they were not taking a medication, but it could be dangerous. By positioning yourself as a partner or coach to the patient, you can help that person set goals and define action steps that will lead to better adherence over time.

Improve Your Pharmacy’s Performance on Key Adherence Measures

Ideas for improving performance include:

Understand Reasons for Nonadherence Tailor Solutions to Specific Reasons for Nonadherence 
Patients may be nonadherent because theyA pharmacy may be able to solve that issue with … 
Don’t know why they need to take the medicationMedication counseling using a motivational interviewing approach
Forget to order refillsElectronic refill reminders, including IVR, calls, text messages and email (available through programs such as Your Pharmacy Online℠)
Forget to take each doseDose reminders or compliance packaging
Find it inconvenient to make multiple trips to the pharmacy to pick up multiple medicationsMedication synchronization
Suffer intolerable side effectsTherapeutic interchange/prescriber collaboration
Can’t pay the costTherapeutic interchange, formulary review or patient assistance programs
1. “JAPhA Releases Study Assessing Impact of Appointment-Based Medication Synchronization Program,” American Pharmacists Association, Dec. 2, 2013. [LINK]
2. “Impact of Medication Packaging on Adherence and Treatment Outcomes in Older Ambulatory Patients,” Philip J. Schneider, John E. Murphy, and Craig A. Pedersen, Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 2008. [LINK]
Note: The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal or other professional advice by McKesson. Readers should consult appropriate professionals for advice and assistance prior to making important decisions regarding their business. McKesson is not advocating any particular program or approach herein. McKesson is not responsible for, nor will it bear any liability for, the content provided herein.