Social Support Networks Can Improve Medication Adherence

Social support networks, both face-to-face and online, can improve medication adherence, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in conjunction with CVS Caremark.

Practical support from family and friends — such as help with reading labels, filling pill boxes and transportation — can be a simple and cost-effective way to improve medication adherence and chronic disease management for patients, concluded the study, “Association Between Different Types of Social Support and Medication Adherence,” published in the December 2012 issue of the American Journal of Managed Care.

CVS Caremark Sponsored Research Examines Impact of Patient's Social Support Network on Medication Adherence

"The growing popularity of online social networking has raised the question of how social connectedness can impact a person's health and whether it plays any role in improving medication adherence," said Niteesh K. Choudhry MD, PhD, associate physician, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics, Brigham and Women's Hospital and associate professor, Harvard Medical School.

"Our research suggests that leveraging a patient's existing social contacts and networks to help them with the practical aspects of being adherent, such as providing transportation to the pharmacy or picking up medications for the patient, could be both an effective and cost-effective way to help improve adherence."

The researchers reviewed 50 peer-reviewed articles that directly measured the relationship between medication adherence and four categories of social support, including:

  • Structural support — marital status, living arrangements and size of the patient’s social network
  • Practical support — helping patients by paying for medications, picking up prescriptions, reading labels, filling pill boxes and providing transportation
  • Emotional support — providing encouragement and reassurance of worth, listening and providing spiritual support
  • Combination support — any combination of structural, practical and/or emotional support 

Greater practical support was more often linked to improved medication adherence, with 67 percent of the studies evaluating practical support finding a significant association between the support and medication adherence, the study reported.