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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Unintentional non-adherence to chronic prescription medications: How unintentional is it really?

Abhijit S Gadkari* and Colleen A McHorney

Author Affiliations

U.S. Outcomes Research, Merck & Co., Inc, 351 North Sumneytown Pike, North Wales, PA, 19454, USA

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BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:98  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-98

Published: 17 April 2012

Abstract

Background

Unintentional non-adherence has been characterized as passively inconsistent medication-taking behavior (forgetfulness or carelessness). Our objectives were to: (1) study the prevalence and predictors of unintentional non-adherence; and (2) explore the interrelationship between intentional and unintentional non-adherence in relation to patients’ medication beliefs.

Methods

We conducted a cross-sectional survey of adults with asthma, hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, osteoporosis, or depression from the Harris Interactive Chronic Illness Panel. The analytic sample for this study included 24,017 adults who self-identified themselves as persistent to prescription medications for their index disease. They answered three questions on unintentional non-adherence (forgot, ran out, being careless), 11 questions on intentional non-adherence, and three multi-item scales assessing perceived need for medication (k = 10), perceived medication concerns (k = 6), and perceived medication affordability (k = 4). Logistic regression was used to model predictors of each unintentional non-adherence behavior. Baron and Kenny’s regression approach was used to test the mediational effect of unintentional non-adherence on the relationship between medication beliefs and intentional non-adherence. Bootstrapping was employed to confirm the statistical significance of these results.

Results

For the index disease, 62% forgot to take a medication, 37% had run out of the medication, and 23% were careless about taking the medication. Common multivariate predictors (p < .001) of the three behaviors were: (1) lower perceived need for medications; (2) more medication affordability problems; (3) worse self-rated health; (4) diabetes or osteoporosis (relative to hypertension); and (5) younger age. Unique statistically-significant predictors of the three behaviors were: (a) ‘forgot to take medications’ - greater concerns about the index medication and male gender; (b) ‘run out of medications’ - non-white race, asthma, and higher number of total prescription medications; (c) ‘being careless’ - greater medication concerns. Mediational tests confirmed the hypothesis that the effect of medication beliefs (perceived need, concerns, and affordability) on intentional non-adherence is mediated through unintentional non-adherence.

Conclusions

For our study sample, unintentional non-adherence does not appear to be random and is predicted by medication beliefs, chronic disease, and sociodemographics. The data suggests that the importance of unintentional non-adherence may lie in its potential prognostic significance for future intentional non-adherence. Health care providers may consider routinely inquiring about unintentional non-adherence in order to proactively address patients’ suboptimal medication beliefs before they choose to discontinue therapy all together.