Adherence: Sticking to a Treatment Plan

Taking medicines regularly for a chronic (life-long) disease like Rheumatoid Arthritis or Psoriatic Arthritis can be difficult and many people miss some doses. If you’re not getting the most out of your treatment plan, there’s an important concept to consider called adherence, and it’s very important to maximizing your treatment success. Adherence is a concept that doctors use to describe how well you are taking your medication.

Adherence Video

Watch rheumatologist Dr. Andy Thompson explain what it means to have good adherence, why it helps you, and how you can talk to your doctor when you are having trouble taking your medication as prescribed.

Download our guide that summarizes Dr. Thompson’s points in the above video:

What is Adherence

Adherence is a concept that doctors use to describe how well you are taking your medication. The term adherence comes from the word adhere, which means to “stick to” something. We’re interested in how well you “stick to” your treatment plan.

There are 3 essential ingredients that make up good adherence:

  • Filling your doctor’s prescription and starting to take the medicine right away
  • Taking the medication exactly how your doctor prescribed (e.g., every day in the morning before eating breakfast)
  • Continuing to take your medication exactly as prescribed over the coming months and years

Adherence is an important concern for your doctor when you have a rheumatic disease like inflammatory arthritis. Some patients can start forgetting to take their medicine properly as time goes on, and some patients take time off because they’re feeling good. It is important to remember that the disease is always there, and that properly taking your medication is one of the most important things you can do to keep you feeling well over the long run.

What Happens without Treatment

It’s important to take chronic inflammatory diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis seriously. Left untreated, these diseases can:

  • Permanently damage your joints
  • Shorten your life-expectancy
  • Increase your risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Limit your ability to work and enjoy physical activities

We’re not saying this to try to scare you. We want you to realize that inflammatory diseases like RA are serious. They’re more than a bit of joint pain and stiffness. They can affect your whole body, mind, and spirit. We want you to understand this so you take your treatment seriously and stick with it.

Talking to your Doctor

Be Honest with Your Doctor. Doctors know that taking medicines regularly can be difficult and that many patients miss some doses.

We know because research tells us that about 1/3 of patients are really good at taking their medicines regularly. The other 1/3 are really bad at taking their medicine. The final 1/3 of people fall in the middle somewhere.

Here’s the catch: patients often tell their doctors that they are taking their medicine perfectly even when they are not. Perhaps they’re afraid their doctor will be upset with them? Perhaps they want to please their doctor? However well-intentioned this may be, it only causes confusion.

Imagine if you go to your doctor and you are told that your arthritis is not well-controlled. Your doctor asks how your medicine is going and you say that you’re taking your medicine exactly as prescribed. Perhaps the truth is that you’re missing doses because you forget, or it makes you feel sick, or it’s too expensive. Why not tell the truth? Unfortunately, the only person you’re hurting is yourself. Please be honest. As doctors, we’re not here to judge you. We’re here to help you.

Constant, candid communication with your doctor is very important. Try to be as open and honest as possible. You should not feel you need to please your doctor with your responses or avoid details if you feel your doctor might be displeased. Being open about how your treatment plan is going and how you are managing with your medicines is a critical factor towards successful treatment outcomes.

Interactive Guide: Overcoming Common Adherence Issues

The following guide was featured on our former website. Launch it, and then click on a common adherence issue to read our tips on how to overcome it.

Related Articles

RheumInfo offers companion resources for physicians regarding patient adherence in our Physician Tools section: