A Kaiser Permanente study has revealed a way to help increase prescription adherence among people taking medications for serious chronic conditions: integrated health care delivery systems.

An integrated health care delivery system is defined as “a network of healthcare providers and organizations which provides or arranges to provide a coordinated continuum of services to a defined population and is willing to be held clinically and fiscally accountable for the clinical outcomes and health status of the population served.”

Published online in the Journal of General Internal Medicinethe study involved 12,061 people who had just been prescribed new medications for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. Everyone in the study was part of the Kaiser Permanente Colorado health care network, which uses a central electronic health records system. This system effectively links patients, doctors' offices and pharmacies and allows them to easily communicate and exchange vital medical information.

Results showed that only 13 percent of cholesterol medications, 11 percent of diabetes medications and 7 percent of blood pressure medications were left unfilled by study participants. These results are impressive since rates of prescription non-adherence in non-integrated health care networks typically hover around 22 percent.

Neglecting to follow a prescribed medication regimen can lead to serious and unnecessary health complications in the elderly. In health systems that are not integrated, physicians are unable to determine which patients are not filling their prescriptions and contact them to find out why.

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For the elderly, prescription non-adherence often occurs due to factors like cognitive impairment, financial strain, inability to fill and pick up the medication, adverse side effects and poor doctor-patient communication.

While an integrated healthcare system is an excellent option for coordinating care across providers and improving medication adherence, there are other resources that can help. For assistance with finding affordable prescriptions, consult the AgingCare.com Prescription Drug Assistance Program Locator, and for tips on helping an aging loved one adhere to their medication regimen, read our Guide for Managing Medications and Prescriptions.