5 Tips to Help Patients Swallow Pills (And Improve Adherence)

5 Tips to Help Patients Swallow Pills (And Improve Adherence) by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

The success of your pharmacy is increasingly intertwined with adherence.

Your performance on Star Ratings metrics and access to preferred pharmacy networks tie directly to your patients’ adherence.

Implementing the appointment-based model of medication synchronization and completing your pharmacy’s medication therapy management (MTM) cases are a few ways you can encourage patients to stick to their medication regimen. But these aren’t the only methods. Another way to improve adherence is by helping patients overcome a common hurdle—swallowing pills.

Forty percent of Americans report having some difficulty swallowing pills, according to a 2004 study from Harris Interactive, a market research and consulting firm. As a result of this difficulty, 14 percent of respondents have delayed taking their medication, 8 percent have skipped a dose and 4 percent have stopped using their medication altogether.

Counteract non-adherence with these five tips to make swallowing pills simple.

1. Teach head posture techniques

Coaching patients about different ways to hold their head, neck and mouth while taking medication can make the pill-taking process simpler.

For example, patients can put the pill on their tongue, close their lips around the opening of a water bottle, and then hold their head back while drinking to help open their throat and swallow the pill. Or, share another technique that you, or your staff uses to swallow pills.

Coach patients through these techniques in your pharmacy and, if it’s appropriate, have them take their first dose as a practice. Or, instead of a pill, have them practice with pill-sized candy, such as Skittles®, M&M’S® or Nerds®.

2. Stock products to aid swallowing

Offer front-end products that make swallowing pills easy, such as the Oralflo™ Pill Swallowing Cup or Pill Glide Swallowing Spray, and suggest them to patients who have difficulty swallowing pills.

The Oralflo Pill Swallowing Cup features a spout where patients place the pill. When the patient drinks from the spout, the pill and water enter the patient’s mouth at the same time, which prevents the pill from sticking to the patient’s tongue.

The Pill Glide Swallowing Spray coats the mouth and throat to take away any bad taste or smell, so patients can swallow the pill with ease. Patients can even select their favorite flavor, including grape, orange, peach, strawberry and bubblegum. You can also recommend this spray if you don’t offer medication flavoring.

Supplementary products like these can make swallowing pills simpler, and keep patients of all ages adherent.

3. Explain the pill-taking process

Help patients, especially young patients, overcome their anxieties about taking pills by helping them understand the process with imagery and metaphors.

For example, ask patients to imagine that their tongue is a water slide and the pill is a rider going down the slide into their stomach, the pool.

Creating fun, silly, ways of understanding how swallowing a pill works can help reduce patients’ anxiety.

4. Teach breathing exercises

In the previously mentioned Harris Interactive study, 13 percent of the 679 adults polled said that taking a deep breath before taking a pill helped minimize their gag reflex.

When you dispense a new pill prescription, counsel patients on breathing, and conduct a few breathing exercises with them for practice right at the counter.

You can even create a bag stuffer with instructions on performing those breathing exercises at home.

5. Disguise pills

Disguising or hiding pills can make swallowing pills easier for some patients.

For example, suggest hiding a pill in a cup of Jell-O™, applesauce, pudding or another snack with a similar texture. Or, a cold food, like ice cream, can help numb the patient’s mouth and mask the taste or texture of a pill.

Hiding a pill in a few bites of a delicious treat will help patients look forward to taking their pill, rather than avoiding it and becoming non-adherent.

Patients will appreciate these helpful tips from their local pharmacist—and you’ll keep them adherent. Continue to improve patient adherence by combatting these other common causes of non-adherence.


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PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy-side of their business. Founded and owned by pharmacists, PBA Health serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, wholesaler contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, and more.

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Elements is written and produced by PBA Health, a buy-side solutions company.

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