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Importance of Sticking to Treatment Plans for Dermatology Patients

by | Apr 5, 2024 | Blog, Dermatologist, Research

she is having second thoughts on skicking to the treatment plan

Key Takeaways


  • Adherence to dermatology treatments significantly impacts patient health, preventing treatment failure and improving quality of life.
  • Factors affecting adherence include socioeconomic status, treatment complexity, and the specific skin condition being treated.
  • Strategies to improve adherence range from using eHealth tools and educational resources to simplifying treatment regimens.
  • Better adherence leads to enhanced treatment outcomes, reducing healthcare costs and improving patients’ emotional well-being.


Ensuring adherence to therapies in dermatology is paramount for enhancing treatment efficacy and promoting patient well-being. Non-adherence poses a significant challenge, often resulting in treatment failure, compromised health outcomes, and a diminished quality of life. When designing treatment plans, healthcare providers must take into account patient preferences, the complexity of treatments, and the unique characteristics of the skin condition being addressed.

Strategies aimed at improving adherence encompass various approaches such as minimizing adverse effects, simplifying treatment regimens, and utilizing eHealth tools, educational resources, and psychological support interventions. Enhanced adherence not only leads to better disease management outcomes but also contributes to reducing healthcare costs and enhancing the overall effectiveness of treatments.

The Challenge of Adherence in Dermatology


Concept of Adherence

  • Adherence in dermatology refers to the extent to which patients follow their prescribed treatment plans, including medication usage, skincare routines, and lifestyle modifications.
  • Primary Nonadherence: This term describes when patients do not fill their prescriptions or start their treatment plans.
  • Secondary Nonadherence: Secondary nonadherence occurs when patients fail to continue their treatment as recommended after initiating it.


Prevalence of Poor Adherence

Poor adherence is a significant issue in dermatology, leading to suboptimal treatment outcomes, disease exacerbation, and prolonged recovery periods.

Consequences of Poor Adherence:The consequences of poor adherence in dermatology are significant and can have detrimental effects on treatment outcomes and healthcare costs. Some of the key consequences include:

  1. Treatment Failure:Poor adherence can lead to treatment failure, where the intended therapeutic effects are not achieved due to patients not following their prescribed treatment plans effectively.
  2. Compromised Health Outcomes:Inadequate adherence can result in compromised health outcomes, exacerbation of skin conditions, delayed recovery, and increased severity of dermatological issues.
  3. Increased Healthcare Costs:Poor adherence contributes to higher healthcare costs as it necessitates additional medical interventions, hospital visits, and prolonged care to address the consequences of ineffective treatment adherence.


Why Patients Might Not Follow Through with Treatment


Patient-Centered Factors

  • Socioeconomic Status:Patients with limited financial resources may struggle to afford medications or treatments, impacting their ability to adhere to prescribed regimens.
  • Age:Older patients may face challenges with treatment adherence due to factors like forgetfulness or physical limitations.
  • Education:Patients with lower levels of education may have difficulty understanding complex treatment instructions, leading to non-adherence.


Treatment-Centered Issues

Patients may struggle with adherence to topical medications in dermatology due to various factors related to the treatment itself:

  • Application Frequency and Amount: Patients may apply topical medications less frequently or in incorrect amounts, impacting treatment effectiveness.
  • Formulation Preferences: Patients generally prefer odorless, less greasy/sticky formulations that are easy to apply. Ointments, while effective, can be firmer and more adhesive than gels or creams, requiring more effort and time for application.
  • Regimen Complexity and Side Effects: The complexity of treatment regimens, adverse reactions, and efficacy issues can pose challenges to adherence. For instance, polypharmacy in acne treatment can lead to difficulties in remembering to take medications as scheduled, affecting both primary and secondary adherence.
  • Side Effects of Topical Treatments: Topical acne therapies may be discontinued or used incorrectly due to side effects like erythema, irritation, itching, and desquamation, reducing their therapeutic efficacy. Local skin reactions such as erythema, dryness, flaking, and itching can lead to treatment discontinuation.
  • Challenges with Oral Medication: Oral acne medication like isotretinoin can cause skin dryness and erythema, limiting adherence due to side effects. These factors contribute to the complexity and potential barriers patients face in adhering to their dermatological treatment plans.


Disease-Centered Factors

Disease-Centered Factors Affecting Treatment Adherence in Dermatology,

  • Variability Based on Skin Condition Characteristics:Adherence to dermatological treatments can vary based on factors like the type, duration, severity, location, and the emotional and social impact of skin diseases.
  • Chronic vs. Acute Conditions:Chronic skin conditions tend to have higher rates of primary and secondary non-adherence compared to acute skin disorders.
  • Specific Conditions and Adherence Rates:Patients with psoriasis and chronic dermatitis exhibit lower adherence rates to treatment regimens.
  • Topical Steroid Phobia and Non-Adherence:Fear and misconceptions surrounding topical steroids can contribute to non-adherence in chronic dermatitis patients.
  • Impact of Disease Severity:Higher disease severity is linked to poorer treatment adherence, as seen in psoriasis patients with larger affected areas showing lower adherence to topical treatments.
  • Psychological Factors in Adherence:Visible symptoms, constant worry, the struggle for control, and fear of stress-triggered symptoms are common factors that can affect adherence among psoriasis patients, leading to behaviors like avoidance, limitation, hiding, and isolation.

Strategies to Improve Adherence


eHealth Solutions

Importance of eHealth Interventions in Improving Adherence

  • Motivational Phone Calls and Physician Resources:eHealth interventions like motivational phone calls and access to physician or medical staff resources can enhance patient engagement and adherence to treatment plans.
  • Automated Interactive Tools:Various eHealth interventions can be automated for interactive patient use, offering convenience and support in managing treatment regimens.
  • Effectiveness Across Different Interventions:Changes in adherence levels vary depending on the specific eHealth intervention chosen and the type of skin condition being addressed.
  • Examples of eHealth Interventions:Weekly text messages and emails, motivational phone calls, mobile e-diaries, educational web-apps are some examples of eHealth interventions that have shown positive impacts on adherence rates.
  • Impact of Text Message Reminders:Text message reminders have been effective in improving adherence, particularly among patients with acne and those undergoing topical psoriasis therapy.
  • Phone Application Push Notifications:Push notifications through phone applications have also demonstrated increased adherence rates compared to patients without such reminders, highlighting the value of technology in supporting treatment adherence in dermatology.


Education and Clear Communication

Importance of Education and Effective Communication in Improving Adherence

  • Patient Education and Empowerment:Educating patients about the causes, progression, associated conditions, and available treatment options for their skin condition empowers them to manage their expectations, take ownership of their health, initiate behavioral changes, and ultimately enhance treatment adherence.
  • Educational Programs and Resources:Utilizing educational programs, workshops, informational materials like videos and leaflets to address common misconceptions about medications, and interventions aimed at increasing patient knowledge through clear communication have shown to improve adherence rates.
  • Impact of Educational Workshops:Educational workshops focusing on enhancing patient understanding, improving communication clarity, and providing increased support have been instrumental in promoting better adherence outcomes.
  • Nurse-Led Clinics and Patient Consultations:Nurse-led clinics with extended consultations and tailored education on disease etiology and management have resulted in improved adherence levels, enhanced quality of life, and better clinical outcomes for patients.


Simplifying Treatment Regimens

Simplifying Treatment Regimens to Improve Adherence,

  • Focus on Acne Patients: Studies in dermatology primarily focus on acne patients when assessing the impact of simplifying treatment regimens on adherence.
  • Potential Pitfall of Complex Regimens: Introducing multiple medications and complex treatment plans can inadvertently decrease patients’ adherence to their prescribed treatments. Simplifying regimens is crucial to ensure patients can effectively follow through with their treatment plans and achieve optimal outcomes.


Reducing Adverse Effects

Reducing Adverse Reactions to Improve Adherence,

  • Adverse Reactions and Non-Adherence: Adverse reactions from systemic and topical dermatologic treatments can deter patients from adhering to their prescribed regimens. Prescribing medications that can mitigate these side effects is crucial to enhance adherence rates.
  • Role of Dermocosmetics: Dermocosmetics, specialized skincare products containing active ingredients like niacinamide, retinol derivatives, zinc, and more, offer a solution to address adverse effects. These products can complement prescription therapy for acne, improving efficacy and reducing side effects.
  • Benefits of Dermocosmetics: Active ingredients in dermocosmetics support skin barrier function, positively influence the skin microbiome, protect against environmental factors like UV radiation, and reduce inflammation through immunomodulation. Incorporating dermocosmetics into acne treatment plans can help manage adverse reactions and promote better treatment adherence.


Psychological Support and Interventions

Psychological Interventions to Improve Adherence in Dermatology,

  • Influencing patient judgments by presenting a more challenging treatment regimen, which can enhance perceptions of the care plan and encourage better adherence.
  • The decoy effect, where an inferior option is introduced alongside choices, can help guide patients towards preferred treatment options when they struggle to decide, aiding physicians in recommending the most suitable treatment.
  • Mindfulness-based interventions have shown effectiveness in managing stress-related skin conditions and enhancing treatment adherence. For instance, patients with atopic dermatitis who participated in online mindfulness and self-compassion training sessions demonstrated improved adherence to medical treatment plans.


The Impact of Better Adherence


Positive Outcomes on Patient Health

Improved adherence to dermatological treatments yields positive results for patients with various skin conditions.

  • Psoriasis: Enhanced adherence leads to better control of psoriasis symptoms, reduced inflammation, and improved skin appearance.
  • Atopic Dermatitis: Better adherence helps manage flare-ups, reduces itching and discomfort, and promotes overall skin health.
  • Acne: Enhanced adherence results in clearer skin, reduced acne lesions, and improved self-esteem.


Broader Benefits of Improved Adherence

  • Enhanced Quality of Life: Patients experience improved emotional well-being, reduced stress related to skin conditions, and increased confidence in their appearance.
  • Reduced Healthcare Costs: By following treatment plans effectively, patients may require fewer medical visits, emergency interventions, or costly procedures, leading to overall cost savings in healthcare.



Adherence to treatment plans in dermatology plays a pivotal role in the success of patient outcomes. The connection between treatment adherence and treatment efficacy is crucial, as better adherence correlates with more significant improvements in skin conditions.


Lo A, Lovell KK, Greenzaid JD, Oscherwitz ME, Feldman SR. Adherence to treatment in dermatology: Literature review. JEADV Clinical Practice. Published online February 14, 2024. doi:

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