Harvard Mental Health Letter

Encouraging patients to take medication as prescribed

Two recent reviews offer advice about assessing and improving treatment adherence.

Many patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia — like those with other chronic health conditions — find it difficult to follow a prescribed medication regimen (see table). This is unfortunate, as studies consistently show that the more carefully such patients take medications as prescribed, the less likely they are to experience a relapse or hospitalization.

Rates of medication adherence

Following a medication regimen is difficult for many patients with chronic health problems, not just those with psychiatric disorders.

Medical condition

Rates and caveats

Bipolar disorder

Long-term adherence to mood stabilizers: 34% to 80%


Depending on patient population (stable outpatients are most likely to follow a medication regimen): 11% to 80%

Cardiovascular disease

Persistently taking medication over 6 to 12 months:

Aspirin to reduce risk of heart attack: 71%

Beta blockers for blood pressure: 46%

Cholesterol-lowering drugs: 44%


Adherence to medication regimen:

At 1 to 6 months: 53%

At 7 to 12 months: 43%

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