What is Adherence Management: Q & A continued.

Dr. Bob Wright

Q: Dr. Wright, what is Adherence Management

It’s a way of getting patients to follow their care plan and enjoy doing it.

Q: Do you mean patients in a hospital or clinic? 

The correct answer is all patients wherever they happen to be at the time they interact with the healthcare system. At home, work, or wherever a provider requires a patient to do specific behaviors necessary to achieve a desired clinical outcome. This incorporates medications that are taken at various times and places throughout the day and night.  So of course, we are concerned with medication adherence. But care plans include other things such as diet restrictions, strength or physical exercises, monitoring behaviors such as taking BP or blood sugar readings, making future follow-up appointments, etc.  Adherence Management is helping clinicians (or their ACO transition care professionals) to get patients to follow their care plan with the use of Consequence Analysis and positive reinforcement.


Q: You mentioned patients enjoying doing what the doctor wants them to do. Why is it necessary for patients to like following their care plan?  

There are several methods to get a person to do what you want. However, unless the patient likes doing it, the patient-centered nature of the plan has lost something.  No one does anything for very long, unless he or she is positively rewarded for doing so. For example, if a provider threatens a non-adherent patient with being discharged from the practice, chances are he’ll do just enough to stay in the practice or not be truthful about his adherence. He might even go into a doctor shopping mode.  

Another problem with negative motivation (threatening), is that a patient who’s been bullied into doing something, will do just enough to get by. This explains why a lot of prescriptions get filled but are not taken (12.5%); or, patients start taking their medications but stop when symptoms subside or consequences are too negative (29.5%); or, prescriptions that never get filled in the first place (12%).


beating heart

Q: It’s important for patients to agree to do what the doctor wants them to do. But how do you get patients to continue their medication for months or even years?

Many clinicians strongly support the notion of common sense — the patient came to me for help, so it just makes sense that they will do what I tell them to do.  Others endorse patient education — if I teach them why they need to follow my treatment plan, they will do it.  And, another large contingent of clinicians have chosen motivational interviewing — if I can just motivate the patient to get over their ambivalence, they will do what I tell them to do.  Although, most clinicians can tell you why patients should take their medications as prescribed, nearly none of them can tell you why their patients choose to be non-adherent and usually become that way within the first two to three weeks or the first few months of starting a new treatment plan.   

Q: So, which is most effective?

While each of these methods have been around for decades, from a behavioral perspective, the correct answer is none of the above.  There are specific applied behavioral laws that clinicians need to know in order to explain patient behavior and non-adherence.

Over a hundred years ago, Edward Thorndike stated, ‘…Pleasing outcomes of a behavior are more likely to occur than outcomes that are unpleasant’.  His ideas started the concepts that positive consequences, that happen immediately after a behavior, will cause that behavior to continue to occur, while negative consequences are more likely to decrease that behavior from happening again.

When you think about taking medications, there is very little that is pleasing about swallowing pills or giving yourself a shot every day, whether for a short time or long-term.  The “pleasing outcome” consequence of this behavior is often not perceived by the patient or it may not happen for years into the future to reduced risk or prolong life. The negative aspects of pill-taking (such as swallowing, inconvenience, cost, side-effects, etc.) will cause a decrease in the behavior until the negative consequences cease or they are overcome with something that has an equal or greater positive impact.

Common sense approaches believe that a patient’s interest in self-preservation should be sufficient to ensure adherence.  Thousands of years of experience has shown that at least 50% of patients are not motivated enough to overcome something that has negative consequences or may have positive consequence but are decades into the future. 

Patient education and Teachback ensures that patients are exposed to information that clinicians believe to be important.  Decades of research on short-term memory and information retention, show that learning new information fades very rapidly if the information is not repeated and reinforced within 20 minutes, 4 hours and 24 hours, respectively.   Please keep in mind, patient education and Teachback are good tools for clinicians to keep in their toolkit, but these legacy approaches do not reinforce behaviors that are required hours, days, weeks, or months into the future nor do they focus on the creation of new adherence habits.

The most effective way to promote patient adherence is to analyze the negative consequence(s) that is causing non-adherence and develop a plan where behaviors can be measured and positively reinforced to build habits of adherence. This is Adherence Management (AdM Coaching™).


BEARS was founded in 2011, and is headquartered in Orlando, Florida, BEARS works globally with a diverse spectrum of clinicians. We help improve Patient Adherence worldwide by using positive, practical approaches grounded in the science of behavior and designed to ensure plan of care persistence. BEARS supports its clients in improving their MIPS adherence improvement strategy execution while fostering patient engagement and positive accountability at the patient-facing levels of their health services organization.  Please click here to become a Certified AdM Coach!

Adherence Management: More Questions and Answers

Dr. Bob Wright

An Interview with Dr. Bob Wright (continued)

The following is an interview with Dr. Robert E. Wright, founder of Behavioral Education and Research Services, Inc. (BEARS). In it, he describes the behavior-based health services clinician-driven process known as Adherence Management (AdM) Coaching®.

We are back with Dr. Bob Wright in our Q and A sessions about Adherence Management.  We’ll start where we ended last time with a question about the differences between outcomes and consequences.

Q: You had mentioned in a previous conversation that there are four pairs or elements of consequences common to every behavior.  And, each type has two extremes.  Can you talk a little more about these elements?

Sure. We already discussed the first pair of elements in our previous session, positive vs. negative. This element is called the “Type” of consequence. This determines whether the behavior is strengthened and will occur again because the patient experienced something positive. Or, the behavior is weakened and will likely not occur again because the experience was negative. 

The other elements of all consequences are “Timing,” (the consequence is immediate or future); “Probability,” (the consequence is certain or uncertain to occur); and “Perception,” (the patient is aware or not aware that the consequence is happening.)

Q: Can you give me an example so our readers can quickly see what you are talking about? 

Let’s look at a 38-year-old, diabetic, male who was just discharged from the hospital for congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and COPD.  His medication list may include albuterol as needed, baclofen 3 times a day, Lovenox injections twice a day, Lasix twice a day, Singulair and Coumadin at bedtime. 

From the physician’s perspective, this plan of care is positive and will lead to immediate and sustained improvement of the patient’s health and well-being. The physician is very aware of how effective this plan will be.  So, from the physician’s point of view, this plan is an all-around PICA consequence (positive, immediate, certain and aware.)

However, from the patient’s perspective, the medication schedule is very intrusive (NICA), the possibility of side-effects is very high (NFUA), and the cost of the medications could be several hundred dollars a month (NICA).  In addition, many of the medications work quietly in the background to prevent future symptoms, but the patient is not aware that they are working (PFUN).  These are mostly negative consequences in terms of convenience, cost and side effects; and, the only positive consequence is something that the patient is not aware of and is uncertain to happen sometime in the future. 

The Consequence Analysis© affords the patient and the AdM Coach the opportunity to evaluate these potential issues and determine ways to either avoid them (by modifying the plan of care) or pushing through these obstacles (with positive reinforcement.)

Q: Can you give me your thoughts on “Perceptions?”  Aware and not aware don’t sound like behaviors to me.

Thank you for pointing that out.  Our perception of a consequence lets us know that something happened or did not happen.  For example, when a patient uses a rescue inhaler, he or she experiences a positive, immediate, and certain outcome or consequence – they can breathe again.  That outcome is referred to as a “PIC.”  The fourth element, “Perception,” deals with whether the user is aware of the consequence or not.  In this case, immediate relief and the ability to breathe normally is very real to the patient.  This outcome is known as a “PICA.” 

Another example is burning your hand on a hot stove. It is negative, immediate, and certain, and you are aware of the pain (NICA). 

Sunburns, on the other hand, are negative, future, uncertain, and people are not aware that the burn is occurring at the time they are enjoying a day at the beach.  This consequence is known as “NFUN.” The sunburn may have negative effects (such as pain or skin cancer), but those effects are in sometime in the future; they may or may not happen; and, the person is not aware that the sunburn is happening, at the time of the behavior.

Many medications, particularly medications for chronic diseases, have consequences that are positive, future, certain but patients are not immediately aware of the benefit (PFCN.)   Consequences that are positive, immediate, certain, and perceived (PICA), will almost always lead to behavior habit development. However, when consequences are NICA or the patient is not aware of the consequence, behaviors will be put on extinction.

Q: So, what you are saying is many medications, taken for chronic illness, may be beneficial, but because, from the patient’s perspective, they are not aware of anything happening and what is happening may actually be causing negative consequences, they stop taking the medications

That’s correct.  All behaviors follow a set of well documented laws.  Any behavior that is not reinforced will eventually stop.  The negative consequences of chronic diseases are often many years into the future.  Also, the clinical positive outcomes of taking chronic medications may also be years away. Future and uncertain consequences are very hard to overcome without some sort of positive reinforcement.

Many times, the day-to-day aspects of pill-taking can often be punishing. And, that punishment happens immediately upon taking the pills.  Another law of behavior is that a punishing consequence will stop behavior.  Any time a consequence is negative, immediate, certain and aware (NICA), you can guarantee it will overwhelm a consequence that is positive, future, uncertain and not aware (PFUN).   

Thank you, Dr. Wright.  That’s all the time we have for today.  Join us next time for Q and A with Dr. Bob Wright.

Following the Plan of Care… It’s their Choice!

“No man ever does a duty for duty’s sake but only for the sake of the satisfaction he personally gets out of doing the duty…”  Mark Twain

Once patients make a health care decision, is the die really cast? Tens of thousands of articles and research papers, written over a millennia or two, describe the paradox created by people seeking the advice of healers. Half choose to ignore their plan of care. It is choice, that ultimate decision by the patient, that determines whether or not he or she will follow your carefully crafted plan of care. The numbers tell us that, if you see 32 patients today, 16 will make the decision to do their own thing.

We label patient behavior with dozens of adjectives to help us understand why anyone with half a brain would not do as we direct.  It is, after all, their health, their body and their medical condition.  To make matters worse, the primary third party payer is now “incentivizing” providers to give better quality care by withholding earned revenue for unplanned readmissions within 30 days of discharge. What if the patient chooses to not follow their plan of care?  The question today is, what is the responsibility of providers to influence patient choice regarding their plan of care?  In 2015 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid clearly stated that care beyond the walls of clinics and hospitals is a “joint” responsibility. How is that to be divided?  In a patient centered world, the patient holds the majority.  When he or she votes no, is it fair to hold the provider responsible?

Physicians and non-physician providers have a moral and legal responsibility to offer the highest quality service they are capable of.  It is their duty to do so.  On the other hand, patients are under no such obligation.  Following their care plan is most often subjective and based on “… the satisfaction he [the patient] personally gets out of doing…” what is necessary to achieve better health.  What if the patient gets no perceived benefit out of doing?  Choice is based on what patients believe will happen when the care plan is followed.  In acute care, patients often do experience a rapid improvement in their health and have some level of personal satisfaction.  The consequences of their behavior are positive, immediate, certain and they are aware of what the treatment did for them.  Chronic illnesses offer a completely different scenario.  The consequences are typically positive but the benefits, although certain, are in the future and the patient is unaware of anything happening.  There is little, if any, “satisfaction he personally gets out of doing the duty.”

Most writers on the subject describe “behavior” as the major cause of non-adherence.  Then they list any number of adjectives to support that notion.  Lazy, forgetful, cost, side effects, and so forth tell us why people don’t do as they should.  To aid my memory, I use the mnemonic “ICE-IF-SAD” to ensure I don’t leave off any “behaviors”.  Inconvenience – Choice – Expense – Illness – Forgetful – Side effects – Accepting – Distrust.

If “behavior is what a person does, not what he thinks, feels or believes,” choice is the only behavior on this list.  The rest of the words represent why patients don’t follow their plan of care.  Inconvenience, expense, and side effects are consequences that “punish” the patient for following their care plan.  Paraphrasing Twain, “No patient ever takes a pill or diets or exercises for the doctor’s sake, but only for the satisfaction (reinforcement) he personally gets out of following the plan.”  Paraphrasing Jerry Maguire (1996), “Show me the [reinforcers]!”

Where reinforcement flows, behavior goes.  When new habits are not reinforced, old reinforcing habits fill the gap.  When new habits are “punished” with costs, inconvenient schedules, and side effects, they have no chance to become the new normal.  The patient who is “forgetful”, in the absence of organic brain disease, has made a choice.  Telling you “I forgot” or “I keep leaving my medication at home” is saying that he or she is getting no satisfaction personally out of doing their duty to themselves.

Behaviors are always surrounded by antecedents or things that get the behavior started (prescriptions, diagnoses) and consequences.  Consequences are what happens following a behavior that either increases or decreases the likelihood that it will continue in the future.  Illness, Acceptance, and Distrust are not behaviors but rather antecedents.  Without the illness there is no need for treatment.  If, because of one’s deeply held beliefs, the course of the disease is the will of God, there may be no “call to action” or a resignation to let nature take its course.  Acceptance is an antecedent.  Distrust of the provider or health services system may have developed based on previous misadventures, real or perceived.  Distrust is then a consequence of previous experiences that becomes the antecedent for non-adherence with future illnesses. Ambivalence is a consequence and the mixed feelings are a result of previous direct or indirect experiences.  Ambivalence will always find its roots in inconvenience, expenses, side effects, acceptance and/or distrust.

For the 50% choosing to ignore or loosely follow your plan of care, adherence is never a roll of the dice.  It is most likely a set of consequences that either punished or failed to reinforce previous episodes of care.  Patient choices are more powerfully reinforced by the 8,759 hours they spend with family and friends than the 15 minutes they spend with you once every three months. Be thankful they sleep for 2,920 of those hours or non-adherence might be higher.  A provider’s understanding the science of behavior may not influence all of the non-adherent patients in your practice, but it will give you a better understanding to the question, “Why would anyone in their right mind not follow my plan of care?”  If you know that, you can begin to design and implement an Adherence Improvement Plan. Click to find out how!