As chronic illness continues to surge, people are being increasingly charged with taking active roles in managing their conditions and treatments.  Many patient support and adherence programs that are intended to help people manage their illness offer a one-size-fits-all approach.  These resources assume that individuals with like diagnoses and demographics (age, socioeconomics, etc) have like education and support needs. However, we know that every person is unique―despite having demographic and clinical similarities―and every individual’s experience managing illness and treatment is personal.

In order to support an individual, we need to identify and understand the life factors, above and beyond the diagnosis, that impact a person’s health-related behaviors and journey with chronic illness.  Factors can include things like access to care, access to or responsibility as caregivers, access to social support; knowledge and skills; beliefs and perceptions. All of these things impact health behaviors, including treatment adherence. Importantly, we know that non-adherence to treatment impacts all healthcare stakeholders, including patients (possible worsening of their illness and symptoms), healthcare providers (increased time spent in patient and illness management), payers (rising costs associated with increased utilization of the health system), and pharma (lost revenue).

Once we can identify the relevant factors, we can look to understand how they impact an individual and, in turn, how they impact their behavior. We can then address the underlying reasons why someone behaves the way they behave.  It is critical to understand not only HOW a person behaves but, more importantly, WHY they think and behave a certain way…whether this be an understanding of what is important to a patient when considering participation in a clinical trial, or what their barriers and motivators are for following a treatment plan (adherence to medication and lifestyle modifications).  It’s the WHY that provides the opportunity to intervene and shift thinking.  Once people think differently, it becomes easier for them to change behavior. 

This is a theme I explore more fully in my recent article regarding the holistic understanding of patient needs, as part of PM360’s 10 "New solutions to help boost medication adherence." This was featured in their July/August digital issue special section on improving adherence to medications.