Reports From the Field

Using the Common Sense Model in Daily Clinical Practice for Improving Medication Adherence



From Genoa-QoL Healthcare and the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy, Ann Arbor, MI.


  • Objective: To review the Common Sense Model, a framework that can be used for understanding patients’ behavior, including taking or not taking medications as prescribed.
  • Methods: Descriptive report.
  • Results: Medication adherence, a critical component of achieving good patient outcomes and reducing medical costs, is dependent upon patient illness beliefs. The Common Sense Model holds that these beliefs can be categorized as illness identity, cause, consequence, control, and timeline. Effective communication is necessary to understand the beliefs that patients hold and help them understand their condition. Good communication also can allay fears and other emotions that can be disruptive to achieving good outcomes.
  • Conclusion: Clinicians should seek to understand their patients’ illness beliefs and collaborate with them to achieve desired health outcomes.

Clinical practice is based on scientific evidence, by which medical problems are diagnosed and treatment recommendations are made. However, the role of the patient may not be completely recognized as an integral part of the process of patient care. The impact of failing to adequately recognize the patient perspective is evident in medication nonadherence. Health psychology research can provide clinicians insight into patients’ perceptions and behavior. This paper reviews the Common Sense Model (CSM), a behavioral model that provides a framework that can be used in understanding patients’ behavior. In this paper I will discuss the model and how it can be a possible strategy for improving adherence.

Making the Case for CSM in Daily Practice

It can be difficult to realize that persons seeking medical attention would not take medications as prescribed by a physician. In fact, studies reveal that on average, 16.4% of prescribed medications will not be picked up from the pharmacy [1]. Of those patients who do pick up their medication, approximately 1 out of 4 will not take them as prescribed [2]. Such medication nonadherence leads to poor health outcomes and increased health care costs [3,4]. There are many reasons for medication nonadherence [5], and there is no single solution to improving medication adherence [6]. A Cochrane review of randomized controlled trials evaluating various interventions intended to enhance patient adherence to prescribed medications for medical conditions found them to have limited effectiveness. Interventions assessed included health and medication information, reminder calls, follow-up assessment of medication therapy, social support, and simplification of the treatment regimen [6]. In an exploratory study of patients with chronic health conditions, Kucukarslan et al found patients’ beliefs about their illness and their medication are integral to their health care decisions [7]. Their findings were consistent with the CSM, which is based on Leventhal’s theory of self-regulation.

Self-regulation theory states that rational people will make decisions to reduce their health threat. Patients’ perceptions of their selves and environments drives their behavior. So in the presence of a health threat, a person will seek to eliminate or reduce that threat. However, coping behavior is complex. A person may decide to follow the advice of his clinician, follow some other advice (from family, friends, advertising, etc.), or do nothing. The premise of self-regulation is that people will choose a common sense approach to their health threat [8]. Therefore, clinicians must understand their patients’ viewpoint of themselves and their health condition so they may help guide them toward healthy outcomes.


Next Article: