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How technology can tackle the medical adherence issue and save thousands of lives

12 Aug 2019

Jon Lee-Davey

IoT Healthcare Lead, Vodafone Business

Statistics from the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) show that a third to a half of all medicines prescribed for long-term conditions are not taken as recommended.

This is worrying. Treatment only works effectively when the patient follows the correct procedures – something which is known as medical adherence.

Poor medical adherence is a big problem that impacts individuals, as well as acting as a drain on the wider healthcare system. In the US, low levels of medical adherence costs an estimated $290 billion a year.

It’s not a new problem: but now the healthcare industry is looking to utilise technology and connectivity to address it.

Solutions such as smart packaging and connected devices could be the key to tackling poor medical adherence. In this blog post I’m going to explain how.

Understanding the adherence issue

In the US, lack of medical adherence leads to 125,000 deaths per year and accounts for 68% of all medical-related hospital admittance.

And it’s the same in Europe, where there are 194,500 deaths a year due to lack of adherence.  

There are many identifiable reasons why patients may not follow their treatments across the three key stages of initiation, implementation and persistence.

At the initiation stage,  20-30% of patients do not start their treatment or collect their prescription. Potential reasons for this include cost, lack of understanding of the benefits or why the treatment is needed, concerns about the side effects or limited availability of medicines.

During the implementation stage, patients can simply forget to take their medication or become overwhelmed by complex dosing regimens, with many patients needing to take multiple medications at different times of the day.

Finally, at the persistence stage, it’s increasingly common for patients to stop treatment early without consulting their doctor if their symptoms have subsided, or if they experience side effects that they think outweigh the benefits of the medication.

For example, nearly one-third of patients who suffered from heart attacks do not continue with their prescribed medication six months after a cardiac arrest.

Changing adherence behaviours through connectivity

Connectivity will play a vital role in helping drive a change in behaviour and attitudes towards treatment and prescriptions.

The good news for organisations is that IoT devices are becoming more advanced and cheaper to make, making smart adherence more accessible for the industry.

New technologies such as secure low power networks (e.g. NB-IoT), secure cloud services and application development platforms give organisations in this sector the tools needed make the most of longer battery life and the ability to create tailor-made applications.

An IoT-enabled adherence platform utilising the cloud, data analytics and smart devices will connect patients and clinicians at each stage of the treatment journey, creating a more personalised experience for individuals to help improve adherence.

For example, smart drug delivery devices such as inhalers that provide immediate feedback on how and when to take medication with reminders sent through to patients’ smartphones, combined with information from other wearables and smart devices, will provide invaluable information for practitioners, as well as improve adherence. 

This level of communication can create more personal and impactful messages to patients, such as:

This method reinforces the importance of taking medicine in the right way and puts more onus onto the patients themselves to remain responsible for their own treatment. As data analytics becomes more sophisticated, changing prescriptions remotely without the need for a clinical referral may also be possible in the future.

The future is connected healthcare

IoT-enabled solutions have the potential to make a huge impact on a problem that has existed for too long, and cost too many lives.

Giving patients access to data on their own adherence will help them to understand and take accountability for their own treatment.

Meanwhile, connectivity and data gathering also helps clinicians to stay informed about the status of their patients, so they can make better decisions as they help them on their way to full health. 

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