Health Plans Can Improve Medication Adherence Among Seniors Through Health Literacy

Date: 11/09/20

Medication non-adherence contributes to a significant number of declining health issues and hospitalizations in the United States, causing many health plans to incur excessive costs. However, in most cases of medication non-adherence, members aren’t intentionally ignoring their physician’s instructions. Rather, they simply lack the health literacy required to take their medication appropriately.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is a common challenge for senior citizens. To improve medication adherence among this vulnerable population, health plans need to evaluate how their medication-related materials address health literacy issues for older adults.

How are health literacy and medication non-adherence related? Eighty-five percent of seniors have one or more chronic conditions, and many handle chronic disease self-management. This means they’re overseeing their own medications, treatments, and drug interactions, which would be overwhelming for patients of any age.

With chronic illness accounting for such a large amount of healthcare spending, it’s advantageous for health plans to address health literacy concerns among their senior members. Here are three strategies:

1. Provide live support.

Provide members with the ability to connect with experts to discuss concerns and ask questions. Accessible human connection can help encourage members to take a more active role in their own health. One way to do this is by including a nurse advice line (NAL) service in your virtual care. NALs connect members to qualified healthcare professionals by phone, which means even members without an internet connection can access valuable healthcare information when they need it.

Plans can provide further connection by supporting the expanded role of pharmacists. Pharmacists can help carry out medication adherence programs or perform motivational interviewing, asking open-ended questions that allow members to explain their experience in their own words. This creates a dialogue that allows pharmacists to actively listen, demonstrate empathy, and subtly lend direction to the conversation.

When they approach a conversation this way, pharmacists can spark behavior change by honoring the patient’s autonomy and coming to conclusions together about ongoing chronic disease self-management.

2. Create educational materials with seniors in mind.

Lengthy healthcare materials can be overwhelming for anyone, especially older populations with learned behaviors that are harder to change. Larger fonts, simpler language, and clearer illustrations (instead of long-winded instructions) can make educational material easier to digest and follow. This, in turn, promotes health literacy and members’ ability to manage their chronic diseases at home.

3. Expand prescription options.

Simplifying the process of receiving and taking medications such as mail-order, 90-day supply, or easy-open pill packaging can vastly increase seniors’ medication adherence. The easier it is for them to follow their care team’s instructions, the better. And if pharmacists have the support they need to expand their roles to reach further into communities, they can have an even greater impact.

By focusing on health literacy to promote medication adherence, health plans can improve their senior members’ health while preventing excessive healthcare costs and saving money. Health plans can empower senior members to take control of their chronic disease self-management and overall health by providing support that is easy to access, understand, and maintain.