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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 144 No. 3940 (2014)

Asking about adherence – from flipping the coin to strong evidence

  • Tracy Glass
  • Matthias Cavassini
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2014;144:w14016


In the era of antiretroviral therapy (ART) as prevention for transmission of HIV as well as treatment for HIV-positive individuals irrespective of CD4 cell counts, the importance of adherence has grown. Although adherence is not the only determinant of treatment success, it is one of the only modifiable risk factors. Treatment failure reduces future treatment options and therefore long-term clinical success as well as increases the possibility of developing drug resistant mutations. Drug-resistant strains of HIV can then be transmitted to uninfected or drug-naïve individuals limiting their future treatment options, making adherence an important public-health topic, especially in resource-limited settings.

Adherence should be monitored as a part of routine clinical care; however, no gold standard for assessment of adherence exists. For use in daily clinical practice, self-report is the most likely candidate for widespread use due to its many advantages over other measurement methods, such as low cost and ease of administration. Asking individuals about their adherence behaviour has been shown to yield valid and predictive data – well beyond the mere flip of a coin.

However, there is still work to be done. This article reviews the literature and evidence on self-reported adherence, identifies gaps in adherence research, and makes recommendations for clinicians on how to best utilise self-reported adherence data to support patients in daily clinical practice.


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