The debate about more stringent pricing regulations on pharmaceuticals is far from over.

As the looming threat of regulation on pharmaceutical pricing continues, pharmaceutical companies should be prepared to adjust their growth strategy; one that has traditionally relied on fueling the “top of the funnel” by increasing the number of patients on therapy and taking price increases on their drugs year over year.

Adherence is a tremendous and traditionally overlooked opportunity for the pharma industry. In fact, studies have suggested that pharma companies lose some $250bn annually due to non-adherence of medications for treatment of chronic conditions. Moreover, as health plans are increasingly considering the efficacy of therapies, now more than ever, the conversation should be about the benefit of the prescribed drug and how pharma companies can support long term adherence.

It’s clear that the pharmaceutical industry can benefit from an increased focus on adherence and there are now strong, proven solutions that can influence adherence for large populations in a cost-effective way. But first, what factors affect medication adherence?

Factors Affecting Medication Adherence

Medication Adherence is an effort in which all stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem have a significant role to play. The patient, caregivers, providers, and the health system all must work to ensure that the drug is taken as prescribed. Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry has an opportunity to play an increased role in supporting the efficacy of their medications and may be better positioned to support specific therapies than any other stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem.

There are several factors that may impact medication adherence:

  • Financial – Patients may struggle to afford the high cost of medications
  • Side Effects – Undesirable side effects may prevent some patients from initiating or adhering to their medication
  • Efficacy – Patients may not feel different when taking medications and perceive that there is a lack of benefit or that the medication is not working
  • Therapy Complexity – Patients may become confused and mismanage their therapy when prescribed multiple drugs for multiple conditions
  • Convenience- Patients who have to travel long distances to get to their pharmacy or healthcare provider may be more likely to drop off medication
  • Comorbidity – Patients suffering from multiple conditions may be less likely to take medications as prescribed
  • Disease State Education – Patients may lack detailed knowledge about their condition including the importance of medication adherence toward driving positive outcomes


How Does Adherence Benefit Pharma?

When medication adherence is achieved, the patient will take the right drug, at the right time, in the right dosage, over the prescribed period, and without adding any self-prescribed drugs. So how does pharma benefit from increased investment in medication adherence?

  • Increased Revenue and Extended Customer Lifetime Value
    Adherence is achieved when patients consistently take medications as prescribed. With an estimated 50% of patients dropping off chronic disease medications within the first year of treatment, the increases in Pharma revenue and customer lifetime value are significant.
  • Enhanced Physician Relationships
    In today’s fast paced healthcare environment, physicians are overworked and under resourced. Despite a strong desire to do so, they simply do not have the capacity to invest in providing the level of support and follow up required to ensure that their patients adhere to their prescribed care plans. Physicians are looking for support in developing collaborative care models whereby support is extended outside of their office environs. Pharmaceutical companies can play a major role in these efforts by investing in initiatives that support long term adherence and better outcomes. In return, prescribers will be more confident in recommending therapies that come with support programs for patients.
  • More Knowledgeable, Aware, and Engaged Customers
    Patients lacking a basic understanding of their disease state and the importance of chronic condition medications is a major driver of non-adherence. Pharma patient support programs result in a more knowledgeable and engaged patient base that becomes more effective in self-managing their chronic condition over time. Brand loyalty also increases as patients recognize the health and lifestyle benefits associated with rigorous medication adherence.
  • Reinvigorated Public Image
    In recent years, the pharma industry has been subject to public scrutiny for a variety of challenging issues including drug pricing, the opioid crisis, and a perceived emphasis on profits over patient needs. Adherence driving support programs are not only good for patients but can be a valuable contributor as Pharma looks to reinvigorate its public perception.

Opportunities for Pharma to Influence Medication Adherence

There is no question that consumer behavior has adjusted to adapt to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare industry, in particular, has seemingly gone digital overnight as the use of telemedicine and digital technologies has surged. In order for Pharma to keep up with evolving consumer trends and expectations, the industry must embrace an increasingly digital approach to driving chronic disease medication adherence. Pharmaceutical companies should do the following to enhance medical adherence:

1. Communicate the Benefits of Medication Adherence

  • In addition to launching effective chronic disease patient support programs, Pharma must be proactive in communicating the benefits of medication adherence. Successful marketing campaigns will educate patients about the medication, how it should be properly dosed, the health and lifestyle benefits, as well as any potential side effects. Marketing, in concert with patient support, can be a powerful tool to remove barriers impeding medication initiation, adherence and persistency.

2. Invest in Strategic Digital Health Partnerships

  • Pharma should leverage telehealth and other digital health technologies that enable easy patient access to expert chronic disease clinicians. These platforms allow clinicians to work directly with patients to identify and overcome any barriers to medication initiation and long-term adherence. Pharma companies that don’t invest in strategic digital health partnerships will run the risk of lagging behind competitors while forfeiting significant opportunities for increased revenue and patient loyalty.
  • Digital health platforms enable the collection, memorialization and analysis of vast amounts of structured and unstructured data that can be leveraged for program optimization and competitive marketing advantage. This data can include results captured from remote devices such as Continuous Glucose Monitors, Blood Pressure Monitors, Smart Scales and Digital Respiratory Devices. This rich data, when shared and analyzed, can provide several benefits for Pharma including:
    1. Ongoing optimization and continuous improvement of patient support programs
    2. More effective patient and healthcare provider visits via shared results and data
    3. A better understand of the drivers and barriers affecting chronic disease medication adherence
    4. A better understanding of the overall patient experience
    5. Real-world marketing insights that can inform and optimize ongoing patient and HCP branding and communications campaigns.

Let the Experts at Cecelia Health Help You with Medication Adherence

The benefits of chronic disease medication adherence are significant for pharmaceutical companies. However, empowering patients to adhere can be challenging. Now, more than ever, there are many proof points that suggest investing in adherence is a pivotal and valuable pharma strategy. Strategic digital health partnerships and the innovative use of data can help pharmaceutical companies elevate chronic care, increase revenues, and gain a competitive marketing advantage. Cecelia Health can help you design and implement and state of the art digital health program that drives your brand objectives and business growth.


About the Author


Steve offers over 3 decades of progressively responsible Business Development and Client Engagement experience in the marketing, strategy, creative services, and professional services space. For the last 8 years, Steve has served in management roles focused specifically in the Pharmaceutical, Medical Device, Animal Health, and Nutraceutical categories. He’s led several Pharmaceutical and Healthcare client relationships including Bayer, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Sanofi, Bausch Health, Eisai, GSK, and Otsuka.

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