It is simple in theory: Patients take their drugs on time and in the dosages prescribed by their physicians. However, in practice, medication non-adherence continues to be a serious problem in the United States, with a patient dying every 90 minutes due to an accidental overdose or missed dose of a prescription drug, according the Express Scripts 2013 Drug Trend Report. It's also costly for the U.S. health system: the United States wastes $317.4 billion annually on unnecessary medical costs that could be avoided by eliminating medication non-adherence, according the same report.

A 2013 poll of U.S. adults showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans who take prescription medications do not take their medication as prescribed. The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies for the Council for Affordable Health Coverage.

As C. Everett Koop, M.D., the former surgeon general of the United States, famously said: "Drugs don't work in patients who don't take them."

Patients are non-adherent for many reasons. They may simply forget a dose, and may also be struggling to follow a complex dosing schedule. Those who manage multiple medications are most likely to not adhere; 70 percent of individuals who take three or more medications do not take them properly, compared with 56 percent among those with one or two prescription medications, according to the GQR poll. The problem is particularly acute when you consider half of these patients have one or more chronic diseases for which effective medications are available.

Technology is starting to play a bigger role in medication adherence as a new wave of hardware and software focuses on the small but significant factors that knock people off their medication regimens.

Omri Shor, CEO of MediSafe, a cloudsynced mobile personalized medication management system, knows firsthand about the importance of families and friends when it comes to patients properly taking medications.

A miscommunication between Shor and his diabetic father resulted in an accidental overdose of insulin. His father's life-threatening emergency reinforced the need to be involved in reviewing his father's daily medication and insulin regimens.

"He's fine today only because we caught it in time, but it could have ended up differently," says Shor. "I started thinking about the fact that people don't have a tool to manage their medications correctly." That was the genesis behind MediSafe, a medication management platform designed to analyze the personal causes of non-adherence and to use the information in real time to increase patient engagement and medication adherence.

Launched in 2012, MediSafe is a mobile "pillbox app" that alerts friends, family and caretakers if a patient misses a dose. The app connects patients with their support network via mobile devices.

To read the full feature story from Greg Slabodkin in Health Data Management’s September issue, click here for a printable copy.

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