If Exercise Is Medicine, Will People Fill Their Prescriptions?

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Written by IHRSA

On Monday, July 14th, the Healthcare Leadership Council hosted an excellent briefing on non-adherence to medication, highlighting the fact that 1 out of 3 patients never fill their prescriptions, and nearly 3 out of 4 Americans don’t take their medications as directed.

The panelists discussed innovative strategies for improving adherence, such as targeted and timely communication. Each strategy was based on the reality that a one-size-fits-all approach to communication is both inefficient and ineffective. Clearly, the digital age is creating medical providers with new opportunities for engaging patients and tracking their adherence, but there are no simple solutions for getting folks to take their medicine.

The problem of non-adherence to medication raises an uncomfortable question for physical activity advocates.

If 1/3 of patients are signaling that a visit to the pharmacy is a barrier too high to overcome, and 75% are finding it too difficult to take medication properly, how many patients can we reasonably expect to fill an exercise prescription that typically requires 150 minutes/week of exertion?

Although evidence suggests that patients are more likely to exercise if their doctors prescribe exercise, we suspect very few patients will stick to an exercise program unless medical offices and physical activity providers (e.g. health clubs, personal trainers, community centers) adopt engagement strategies similar to those being implemented by the pharmaceutical industry for medication adherence.

At Novartis, for example, a comprehensive study of patients revealed 4 clusters of patients, each with a distinct set of compliance barriers: “Strugglers,” who seem overwhelmed by the medical condition and necessary medications; “Skeptics,” who view medication as a last resort; “A-Students,” who are fully engaged with their health care and likely to adhere to their prescription; and “Independents” who are likely to adhere but not be consumed with their health issues.

Understanding the four clusters helps Novartis create targeted adherence plans for each patient. The plans include customized messaging, 6 months of support, 3 or 4 email and text messages per week, an interactive website, real-time messaging support, and more.

Can this level of engagement be accomplished by a fitness center? Absolutely. And I know there are some pioneering clubs already on this path and achieving great results. But effective engagement does not happen overnight. It clearly requires an investment of time and resources, both of which are in short supply at most fitness centers.

So let’s make sure we support the great work of the Exercise Is Medicine initiative and champions of the “exercise prescription” movement like Dr. Eddie Phillips and Dr. Bob Sallis, by making sure that fitness facilities are prepared to help patients adhere to those prescriptions.

What do others think? How can we help patients adhere to exercise prescriptions? Do you work at a fitness center with a great member orientation program? Perhaps you work for a software company developing tracking systems for medical fitness providers? We’d love to hear from you.

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