The other day I was watching Homeland on Showtime (which is excellent, by the way), and I got to thinking about healthcare insurance. Just bear with me.

(Minor spoiler alert...) Carrie Matheson, the show's lead character, suffers from some mental health issues, and often doesn’t want to take her medicine. She’ll take it for a while, think she’s getting better, and then go off her medication because she thinks she no longer needs it. Her illness once again sets in, and she ends up in the psychiatric hospital. I would bet her fictional insurance provider is quite frustrated with her.

There are a number of reasons that someone might stop taking their medications – negligence, an inflated sense of well-being (as such in Carrie’s fictional case), when the prescription is cost prohibitive, or if they just don’t feel like going back to the doctor for a refill. Take these stats from The New England Healthcare Institute to put things in perspective:

  • At least 125,000 Americans die annually due to poor medication adherence.
  • As adherence declines, emergency room visits increase by 17 percent and hospital stays rise 10 percent among patients with diabetes, asthma, or gastric acid disorder.
  • Poor medication adherence results in 33 percent to 69 percent of medication-related hospital admissions in the United States, at a cost of roughly $100 billion per year.
  • The New England Healthcare Institute estimates that total potential savings from adherence and related disease management could be $290 billion annually – 13 percent of health spending.

Medication adherence is a growing concern to policymakers, payers, providers and employers because of mounting evidence that non-adherence is prevalent and associated with adverse outcomes and higher costs of care. So to a healthcare company, how can your marketing and communications strategy impact this epidemic and lead to lower costs on your end?

  • Consider implementing a member segmentation data modeling strategy based on health attitudes and behaviors.
  • Based on these modeled segments, you can determine which factors to emphasize for engaging members about medication adherence.
  • Apply customized messages and incentive communications programs based on the member’s individual preferences - i.e. how they prefer to manage their own health.
  • Proactively test-mail medication adherence educational materials to members who do not appear to be taking their medication as directed.
  • Employ multivariate testing for efficient test and learn analysis.

A unique approach that provider WellPoint took was with a Therapy Management Program, which focused on members with over- and/or under-use of prescribed drugs. They received personalized messages tailored to their conditions and medications. Program results included:

  • Drug compliance improved approximately 30 percent among program participants.
  • Among program participants who suffer from cardiovascular disease, the therapy management program has shown a 17 percent improvement in members’ medication use,
  • A 43 percent relative decrease in additional heart attacks.
  • Approximately $8,000 less in total medical costs each year.

Medication adherence affects a wide range of people across all ages and all types of conditions: from a recent college graduate to a senior CIA operative (like Carrie on Homeland).  It is important that communications targeted to improve adherence are customized in a manner meaningful to the specific population being addressed.  Customized communication programs like this reduce costs while also having a significant impact on individuals’ medication adherence and, consequently, their quality of life.