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Effective Patient Engagement & Adherence: The Difference Between What Works and What Falls Flat

July 30, 2021

Recently, I was asked to define the word adherence and what adherence meant to me. A somewhat simple ask, but as I thought about my response, I quickly came to realize that my answer reflected my individual health journey and personal experiences. Adherence comes from the Latin word adhaerentia, which means “stick to.” So, to me, adherence is the ability for me to abide by my doctor’s recommendations with respect to the timing, dose, and frequency of my newly prescribed medication.  But in terms of designing a patient support program, it’s important to recognize that adherence is unique to the individual, their beliefs, behaviors, and the task to which they are expected to be adherent.

As a Registered Nurse (RN), who has spent over 25 years in the healthcare industry, 15 of those years here at UBC, I’ve learned there is more to adherence than taking your medication as prescribed by your doctor.  In my experience, the best approach to designing an adherence program is holistic and considers the patient’s entire well-being, both physically and emotionally.

Today, many traditional hub programs focus first on patient access and then on a patient’s adherence journey, but our strategy puts both access and adherence support services on a level playing field with personalized outreach designed to prompt patients at the right time and at the right place. The key theme in our design is engagement.

We strongly believe that a patient’s motivations and beliefs towards their diagnosis and treatment have an impact on their decision to adhere to a new medication schedule and/or a new lifestyle.  A patient’s adherence journey begins at the moment they are diagnosed and a decision is made to start on treatment, not after their first dose is taken.  This acknowledgment is a key step in our patient support design and engagement strategy.

It’s just as important to understand a patient’s feelings and emotions towards their treatment when discussing their insurance status or supporting financial discussions, as it is for one of our registered nurses to educate on product administration or side effect management. If we are not engaging patients early, assessing needs, and building rapport there will be a downstream effect, that in turn negatively impacts a patient’s overall adherence.

Healthcare professional engaging with a patient

The customized engagement we offer to patients and their stakeholders streamlines communication and provides treatment information at the right time in the right modality that works best for our patients. In 2020, UBC launched UBC Pathways® Engage providing patients with an intelligent mobile messaging solution to create meaningful relationships with patients in a completely different way than that of utilizing an app or traditional phone calls. The launch of UBC Pathways® Engage and our virtual assistant technology, named Linda, allows us to establish trust early and build relationships with our patients in a digital fashion. Early in our patient journeys, we spend time ‘getting to know’ our patients, evaluating both patient and family needs, conducting assessments, and customizing specific interventions to overcome individual barriers to treatment.

Over the past year and a half amid a global health crisis, the ability to provide virtual engagement tools and connect with patients on their terms has never been more important. The combination of UBC Pathways® Engage, coupled with our virtual nurse educators provides valuable support to patients when and wherever they need it. We understand that communication preferences for patients, physicians, and caregivers are constantly in flux and the amount of information and outreach is overwhelming at times.  Our patient journeys offer the right combination of engagement to allow for patient independence and autonomy, thus helping patients be successful at starting and staying on therapy.

One example of our recent adherence success yielded strong outcomes for patients suffering from opioid and alcohol dependence. UBC demonstrated value to our client by providing customized engagement focused on both access services and clinical education within a challenging disease state. These combined services improved a patient’s adherence to ongoing therapy appointments and medication schedules.

In a year filled with much uncertainty and skepticism about the future state of healthcare access and delivery, the ability for us to build connections with our patients has never been more critical. The compassion, empathy, and clinical expertise provided every day by UBC’s experienced team of nurses can never be replaced by technology but rather by allowing technology to complement our patient engagements provides the balance our patients need to stay informed.

Approaching each and every patient engagement as if the patient is our friend, colleague, family member, or loved one, allows our staff to put ourselves in the shoes of our patients and provide a compassionate and comfortable environment for patients to feel supported.

To learn how we can design a custom patient support program that focuses on both adherence and access, get in touch with us here.

Nurse working with a patient for better adherence

About The Author

Kelly Elio, RN, serves as director of UBC’s Commercial Strategy and Client Engagement team. She is responsible for the nursing and patient engagement strategy, support, implementation, and design of commercial clinical programs and their strategic initiatives.

Kelly joined the organization in 2006 with more than 10 years of healthcare experience with a concentration in neurology, pediatrics, and pharmaceutical patient and customer services. She has a strong background in operations, implementation, and management of customer support operations, field-based clinical educator programs, case management, and inbound/outbound call center teams.

In her current role at UBC, she works with clients to drive the program vision and establish understanding of the goals and objectives of the program. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biology and an Associate Degree in nursing.