Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 6–12 | Cite as

Physician–Patient Communication About Prescription Medication Nonadherence: A 50-state Study of America’s Seniors

  • Ira B. WilsonEmail author
  • Cathy Schoen
  • Patricia Neuman
  • Michelle Kitchman Strollo
  • William H. Rogers
  • Hong Chang
  • Dana Gelb Safran
Original Article


Understanding and improving the quality of medication management is particularly important in the context of the Medicare prescription drug benefit that took effect last January 2006.


To determine the prevalence of physician–patient dialogue about medication cost and medication adherence among elderly adults nationwide.


Cross-sectional survey.


National stratified random sample of community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older.

Main Outcome Measures

Rates of physician–patient dialogue about nonadherence and cost-related medication switching.


Forty-one percent of seniors reported taking five or more prescription medications, and more than half has 2 or more prescribing physicians. Thirty-two percent overall and 24% of those with 3 or more chronic conditions reported not having talked with their doctor about all their different medicines in the last 12 months. Of seniors reporting skipping doses or stopping a medication because of side effects or perceived nonefficacy, 27% had not talked with a physician about it. Of those reporting cost-related nonadherence, 39% had not talked with a physician about it. Thirty-eight percent of those with cost-related nonadherence reported switching to a lower priced drug, and in a multivariable model, having had a discussion about drug cost was significantly associated with this switch (odds ratio [OR] 5.04, 95% confidence interval [CI] 4.28–5.93, P < .001).


We show that there is a communication gap between seniors and their physicians around prescription medications. This communication problem is an important quality and safety issue, and takes on added salience as physicians and patients confront new challenges associated with coverage under new Medicare prescription drug plans. Meeting these challenges will require that more attention be devoted to medication management during all clinical encounters.

Key words

physician–patient relations Medicare pharmaceutical services patient compliance 



This research was supported the Commonwealth Fund and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The authors gratefully acknowledge Spike Duzor, Maribel Franey, and Dural Suite (CMS) for their assistance with the authors’ data request. The contents of this paper are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Fund, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, or Tufts–New England Medical Center.

Potential Financial Conflicts of Interest

None disclosed.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ira B. Wilson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cathy Schoen
    • 2
  • Patricia Neuman
    • 3
  • Michelle Kitchman Strollo
    • 3
  • William H. Rogers
    • 1
  • Hong Chang
    • 1
  • Dana Gelb Safran
    • 1
  1. 1.Tufts–New England Medical CenterBostonUSA
  2. 2.The Commonwealth FundNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.The Henry J. Kaiser Family FoundationMenlo ParkUSA

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