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Acad Emerg Med. 2011 Mar;18(3):267-72. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2011.01007.x.

Risk for cost-related medication nonadherence among emergency department patients.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.



There has been a rapid rise in prescription drug costs over the past decade. As a result, many Americans are unable to afford their medications, especially in the current economic recession. Medication nonadherence is known to have adverse effects on health outcomes. The purpose of this study was to gain a preliminary understanding of cost-related medication nonadherence (CRMN) disclosure among screened emergency department (ED) patients and to describe the extent to which CRMN is associated with other economic and psychosocial risk factors.


This was a prospective, cross-sectional study of a convenience sample of adult patients presenting to an urban academic ED with 61,962 annual visits in 2009. Nonemergent patients received an optional self-administered Social Health Survey between May and October 2009. Results were assessed from the sample of anonymous surveys that were completed and collected. Standard statistical methods were used to determine the frequencies and relative risks (RRs) for CRMN with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).


A total of 384 (25.5%) of the 1,506 adult patients who completed the survey either screened positive for any prior CRMN (20.7%) or disclosed concerns about affording medication (4.8%). Patients were significantly more likely to report risk for CRMN if they used tobacco (RR = 1.8, 95% CI = 1.5 to 2.2) or illicit drugs (RR = 2.0, 95% CI = 1.6 to 2.4), experienced intimate partner violence (IPV; RR = 1.8, 95% CI = 1.5 to 2.2), or reported concerns about overall financial instability (RR = 3.9, 95% CI = 3.2 to 4.7), food insufficiency (RR = 3.7, 95% CI = 3.1 to 4.3), housing problems (RR = 2.5, 95% CI = 2.1 to 2.9), and inadequate health insurance coverage (RR = 7.7, 95% CI = 6.2 to 9.5).


Risk for medication nonadherence due to cost concerns was identified in a quarter of nonemergent urban ED patients in our sample and was more likely to be reported by patients experiencing other economic and psychosocial risks. These findings indicate a need to include discussions about medication affordability and referrals to social services as part of ED discharge planning.

© 2011 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

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