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Doctor-Patient Communication Affects Medication Adherence

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Because diabetes increases the risk of serious illnesses, many people with diabetes are prescribed medication to manage their blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and/or reduce blood pressure. These treatments are important for living a long and healthy life, but many people with diabetes do not take their medications as prescribed. 

Researchers supported through the NICHD Population Dynamics Branch assessed how the doctor-patient relationship affects whether patients take their medicine (medication adherence). The scientists reviewed medical records and surveyed more than 9,000 people with diabetes who were covered by the same insurance plan and were prescribed medication to manage blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and/or reduce blood pressure. Unlike previous studies, which simply asked people to report whether they took their medicine, this study used information from medical records about whether patients obtained prescription refills on time. 

The researchers found that for each different type of medicine (blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar), between 20% and 30% of patients did not obtain as much medication as they were prescribed. Compared with similar patients offering higher ratings, patients who gave lower overall ratings for their communication with their primary care doctor were less likely to obtain their medicine as prescribed. More specifically, for cholesterol and blood sugar medications, patients who rated their doctors poorly for involving patients in decisions, understanding patients’ problems with treatment, and eliciting confidence and trust were less likely to follow their medication regimens.   

These results indicate that efforts to improve doctor-patient communication and trust may have a significant benefit in improving medication adherence for people with diabetes (PMID: 23277199). 

Last Reviewed: 04/30/2014
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