It’s hard to think about the many diabetes patients who struggle daily to manage their disease. It’s especially distressing to know that many of these patients—either willingly or unwillingly—don’t adhere to their prescribed medication regimens.

People living with diabetes often know it’s important to take their medication, but adhering to the prescribed medication is a major challenge for certain populations. In fact, a 2015 study shows that within one year, fifty percent of patients prematurely discontinue their medications.

Each individual faces unique barriers when it comes to diabetes medication adherence. Understanding those barriers enables the entire health system—from medical professionals to insurance providers to the pharmaceutical industry—more easily help patients overcome those barriers. Here are four of the most common barriers to medication adherence faced by diabetes patients.

Lack of acceptance of the diagnosis

The very first thought when many people are first diagnosed with diabetes?

“Not me. There must be some mistake.”

Some denial is a normal and expected part of processing the diagnosis; long-term denial causes the real problems. Long-term denial stops patients from learning the information they need to keep themselves healthy.

People who are struggling to accept their diabetes are much less likely to initiate and adhere to their medication. There are many reasons why someone may initially not accept their diabetes diagnosis. Here are some common reasons for a lack of acceptance:

  • The person is asymptomatic or rarely experiences symptoms.
  • The person is not educated about diabetes.
  • They feel a loss of independence and ability to live life on their terms, so they simply decide to live as if they do not have diabetes.

Feeling fearful or overwhelmed

Another common emotion patients experience after receiving a diabetes diagnosis is fear. The fear can take many shapes, including:

  • Fear of the unknown—what is going to happen to me?
  • Fear of managing their condition
  • Fear of administering their medication or checking their blood sugar levels
  • Fear of increased doctor visits
  • Fear of side effects

The prospect of living with and managing this condition for the rest of their lives can be understandably overwhelming to patients. Most people are not well-educated about diabetes unless it becomes part of their daily lives. Even then, other barriers can prevent patients from becoming educated about their condition.

This lack of knowledge can cause people to feel overwhelmed or afraid, and that fear can have the paralyzing effect of preventing them from taking their medication as prescribed.

Incorrect perceptions of condition or medication  

Often, general practitioners who don’t specialize in diabetes don’t have the time or training to properly educate patients on their condition. This can lead the patient to develop misconceptions about their disease.

One common misconception is that insulin only needs to be taken when the person is experiencing symptoms or when their blood tests raise a red flag. Patients may gauge the necessity of treatment based on their perception of their current state, rather than following the recommendations of a health professional.

While fear or denial can play a role in this pattern, a more common challenge is the patient not fully understanding either the prescription instructions or the purpose of the medication they are taking.

Struggling with financial resources

Diabetes is a disease that disproportionately affects low-income individuals. At the same time, diabetes self-management presents some of the biggest challenges for people who struggle with financial resources.

A low-income status affects nearly every aspect of diabetes self-management. Low-income individuals may not always have reliable access to their medications. Other potential barriers that can affect adherence include food insecurity, lack of access to safe and affordable exercise, and low health literacy.

Medication strategies are designed to help people living with diabetes manage their conditions as safely and effectively as possible. However, adhering to those recommendations can be a challenge for many people for a variety of reasons.

Certified Diabetes Educators (CDEs) work one-on-one with patients to help identify their personal barriers and teach strategies for overcoming them. With a personalized approach, people living with diabetes can become empowered to improve their lives.

At Cecelia Health, our personalized, technology-enabled, scalable approach has been proven to increase medication adherence in diabetes patients. With the care and attention of a CDE, we can strengthen the education for all patients, and meet them where they are to make significant positive changes.