Assessment of adherence problems in patients with serious and persistent mental illness: Recommendations from the expert consensus guidelines

Dawn I. Velligan, Peter J. Weiden, Martha Sajatovic, Jan Scott, Daniel Carpenter, Ruth Ross, John P. Docherty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

102 Scopus citations


Poor adherence to medication treatment can have devastating consequences for patients with serious mental illness. The literature review and recommendations in this article concerning assessment of adherence are reprinted from The Expert Consensus Guideline Series: Adherence Problems in Patients with Serious and Persistent Mental Illness, published in 2009. The expert consensus survey contained 39 questions (521 options) that asked about defining nonadherence, extent of adherence problems in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, risk factors for nonadherence, assessment methods, and interventions for specific types of adherence problems. The survey was completed by 41 (85%) of the 48 experts to whom it was sent. When evaluating adherence, the experts considered it important to assess both behavior and attitude, although they considered actual behavior most important. They also noted the importance of distinguishing patients who are not willing to take medication from those who are willing but not able to take their medication as prescribed due to forgetfulness, misunderstanding of instructions, or financial or environmental problems, since this will affect the type of intervention needed. Although self- and physician report are most commonly used to clinically assess adherence, they are often inaccurate and may underestimate nonadherence. The experts believe that more accurate information will be obtained by asking about any problems patients are having or anticipate having taking medication rather than if they have been taking their medication; They also recommended speaking with family or caregivers, if the patient gives permission, as well as using more objective measures (e.g., pill counts, pharmacy records, smart pill containers if available, and, when appropriate, medication plasma levels). Use of a validated self-report scale may also help improve accuracy. For patients who appear adherent to medication, the experts recommended monthly assessments for adherence, with additional assessments if there is a noticeable symptomatic change. If there is concern about adherence, they recommended more frequent (e.g., weekly) assessments. The article concludes with suggestions for clinical interview techniques for assessing adherence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-45
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of psychiatric practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Adherence
  • Assessment
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Expert consensus guidelines
  • Medication
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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