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JAMA. 2002 Dec 11;288(22):2880-3.

Helping patients follow prescribed treatment: clinical applications.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University Faculty of Health Sciences, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.


Low adherence to prescribed medical regimens is a ubiquitous problem. Typical adherence rates are about 50% for medications and are much lower for lifestyle prescriptions and other more behaviorally demanding regimens. In addition, many patients with medical problems do not seek care or drop out of care prematurely. Although accurate measures of low adherence are lacking for many regimens, simple measures, such as directly asking patients and watching for appointment nonattendance and treatment nonresponse, will detect most problems. For short-term regimens (< or =2 weeks), adherence to medications is readily achieved by giving clear instructions. On the other hand, improving adherence to long-term regimens requires combinations of information about the regimen, counseling about the importance of adherence and how to organize medication taking, reminders about appointments and adherence, rewards and recognition for the patient's efforts to follow the regimen, and enlisting social support from family and friends. Successful interventions for long-term regimens are all labor-intensive but ultimately can be cost-effective.

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