Patient adherence is a hot topic for the healthcare industry because it can impede or undermine patients’ recovery or a chronic condition. Non adherence costs an estimated $290 billion in hospitalization stemming from complications. For the pharmaceutical industry, improving it could provide a way to save millions in lost revenue. An effective plan by a pharmaceutical company could pave the way to a favorable spot on a formulary.

As startups, providers and pharmaceutical firms develop ways to solve this critical problem, a new report has highlighted some interesting trends. Pharmaceutical companies are devoting more budget spend to patient adherence teams and allocations to digital programs have spiked in the past year.

In the past four years US pharmaceutical companies’ patient adherence budget allocations have jumped 281 percent from $400,000 in 2009 to $1.5 million in 2012. But more importantly there is an increasing recognition that understanding patients and their motivations will help pharmaceutical companies better engage them and make adherence programs more successful. Here are some of the most interesting findings in a patient adherence survey by Cutting Edge Information in Durham, North Carolina,

Growth of dedicated teams Of the 18 small, medium and big pharma companies 12 have dedicated patient adherence teams. Four have added a team in the past year and six have added one in the past one to three years. The advantage of a dedicated team is that they can centralize experience, implement best practices and pool together resources. Human health behavior professionals who can better understand patients motivatations, psychology and emotions are increasingly part of these teams.

Digital and mobile channels are increasing priority: US pharmaceutical companies are increasing their budget allocations in digital and mobile channels. Within pharmaceutical companies’ mobile phone budget allocations, app adherence programs are set for the most significant growth from a current level of 11 percent to a projected 33 percent in five years. Currently calling mobile phones to remind patients to take their meds is a little more than half of this spending.

The increased importance of mobile channels was underscored with data from a Surescripts study earlier this year showed that e-prescribing produced a 10 percent increase in first-fill behavior than pen and paper prescriptions, the report said. Patients are relying more on digital communication with their pharmacies and physicians. Pharmaceutical marketers need to reach customers through online channels to deliver adherence content.

How to engage patients: a caveat to digital and mobile growth: Digital and mobile may be growing but don’t forget the complexities at the root of patient adherence — everybody’s different. “If a program is misaligned with patients’ real-life concerns, fears and questions, the communication medium is immaterial,” said Eric Bolesh, the director of operations with Cutting Edge, in an e-mailed statement. “Teams are well-served by spending time and money to truly understand what their patients want ’ and then building programs that address those unfulfilled needs. Picking the right channels is just one part of the puzzle.”

Characteristics of successful programs: “They are mostly in chronic disease categories, because those patients benefit the most from long-term support,” said Bolesh. “The programs have some form of dedicated support behind them in the form of expert personnel ’ they’re not just another marketing channel. They have budgets to work with, and their funding is rising along with programs across the industry. They focus on addressing patient needs, not pushing their own agendas in the hunt for return on investment.”