Ensuring that patients follow an agreed-upon treatment plan is a significant challenge faced by healthcare practitioners, no matter their modality or speciality. Fullscript’s Integrative Medical Advisory and Insights teams recently released a report summarizing the results of a comprehensive literature review and industry insights project on the topic of Treatment Adherence in Integrative Medicine.
As a part of this report, the authors identified the common barriers faced by patients as well as the methods practitioners use to overcome these barriers in clinical practice.
4 strategies to help patients follow their treatment plans
Based on industry insights gathered by the Fullscript team, the following list outlines the top strategies used by practitioners to help their patients adopt a proposed treatment plan that supports their wellness journey.
The key best practice emphasized by practitioners was to establish trust with the patient. A positive practitioner-patient relationship can help build trust in a practitioner’s expertise and recommendations, and patients could be more likely to move ahead with the treatment plan as a result. Practicing open communication, including offering a complimentary introductory appointment, and using an evidence-based approach (e.g., making recommendations based on lab test results) were identified by respondents as factors that help to build and maintain trust.
Use a staged approach
Practitioners cited staged treatment plans and being realistic with patients as key strategies to increase the likelihood of patient adherence. Prioritizing or limiting the number of supplements included in a treatment plan can help the patient feel less overwhelmed. Practitioners should also help their patients understand what each supplement is and how it will impact their health concerns or overall health goals. Setting goals that are in line with the patient’s financial considerations during the first few appointments was also considered to be crucial for success.
Meet patients where they are
If a patient is not ready to make big life changes, working with them to identify a first step can make the treatment plan more approachable. According to interview and survey results, Fullscript practitioners identified that including a variety of treatment options and “meeting the patient where they are” can help overcome patients’ feelings of being overwhelmed or not ready.
Keep it simple
The strategy of “keeping treatment plans simple” is supported by the data gathered on treatment plan size and first fill rates (ordering every supplement recommended in an initial treatment plan). Generally, smaller treatment plans (those containing fewer supplements) were associated with higher full fill rates. Though we cannot definitively comment on the cause of the relationship, keeping the treatment plan trimmed to essential supplements is a well-advised strategy based on practitioner trends.
Leveraging online dispensing to improve adherence
Technology has the potential to improve the ways in which interventions are delivered. Though mobile devices and the internet have existed for decades, research taking advantage of these technologies for adherence has only started to expand within the last ten to 15 years.
The multi-functionality of these technologies has provided numerous new streams through which patients can organize, collect, manage, and share personal, medical, and adherence-related data.
Online or “virtual” dispensing solutions, in particular, offer many features to improve adherence. For example, signing patients up for refill reminders can ensure that they have an ongoing supply of supplements and are able to consistently follow their treatment plan. Setting up auto-shipping for all refill orders is another useful option for patients, further decreasing the barrier to adherence.
Adding instructions to the treatment plan shared via an online dispensing platform can also help provide clarity and remind patients when and why they should be taking their supplements. Practitioners are able to add attachments to provide additional instructions and resources, such as health education handouts and resources. Having an online document to reference can provide reassurance to patients as they begin a new regimen.
The bottom line
Consistently following a treatment plan and making sustainable behavior changes is essential to achieving health outcomes, but it is also an important challenge to address for patients and their practitioners. Establishing trust, using a staged approach, keeping treatment plans simple, and meeting patients where they are can help facilitate change and reduce overwhelm. Utilizing an online dispensing platform can also support adherence by facilitating information sharing and providing features such as refill reminders and auto-shipping.