How Will COVID-19 Impact Patient Adherence?

Posted by Brianna Bogan on August 14, 2020

Even before COVID-19, America had a costly patient adherence problem. One 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine attributed nonadherence to 125,000 deaths, 1 out of 10 hospitalizations, and up to $289 billion in annual healthcare costs.

Because adherence has historically been associated with social determinants of health, particularly economic stability, the pandemic stands to worsen an already pervasive problem. 

But even more concerning is that these trends take place in a time when health systems are more strapped for resources than ever before. How well they navigate these barriers will largely depend on how well they assist patients who can’t pay for care. 

Going into 2021, there will be a lot of people who fit that description.

A Perfect Storm of Factors

Joblessness, underinsurance, healthcare worker shortages, and delays in care have collided amid the pandemic, impacting patient livelihoods and hospital bottom lines. 

Patients who delayed care because they couldn’t afford it or didn’t want to risk coronavirus exposure will eventually need that care. Unfortunately, they may not seek it until their disease has advanced to a more costly and less treatable stage. Even then, lingering financial concerns may make them less likely to adhere to treatment plans.

Many hospitals are just fighting to survive through today while they help their patients do the same. There’s little time or resources to think ahead. As a result, some organizations may be unprepared for the late-stage spikes to come, especially since they’re taking place among vulnerable populations most at risk for financial toxicity.

Patient Adherence, Then and Now

COVID-19 or not, we know that financial hardships hold patients back from sticking with treatment plans. Comparing cancer patients with and without financial problems, one pre-COVID ASCO study found that patients who had financial trouble were: 

  • 18.3 percent more likely to delay needed care.
  • 13.8 percent more likely to skip needed care, and
  • 14.2 percent less likely to take prescription medications as recommended.

These adherence rates have troubling effects on outcomes and quality of life and lead to even more high-cost care in the long-run. Often, that debt falls to the hospital. 

While we don’t know what will happen related to COVID-19’s long-term impact on patient adherence, ASCO’s study gives us a clue. Fortunately, there’s new hope to preempt these factors with a transformed approach to patient assistance programs.

Check out Vivor’s latest white paper, Driving Patient Financial Assistance in an Economic Downturn, to learn more about how your organization can build a digitized patient financial assistance program that can weather the storm. 

Download the White Paper