Compliance: Use the best terminology

Q. Why do you use the term “adherence?”
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A. I prefer to use the term “adherence” versus “compliance” when referring to keeping patients on CPAP therapy for two reasons: 1) it’s a clearer way to communicate the idea and 2) it syncs with the terminology of referral sources.

In the HME world, the general term “compliance” typically means that you meet a certain set of payer or regulatory rules. In the case of Medicare, to be in compliance, you need to meet CMS guidelines, and one of those guidelines includes proving that the patient is using the machine—that the patient is “adherent” to therapy. 

A “compliance officer,” for instance, has very little to do with keeping patients on therapy.

When a word has multiple meanings, it becomes less useful for clear communication. On the other hand, the term “adherence” means only one thing—that the patient has stayed on therapy.

I also think it is a good practice to keep up with the clinical world. When you use terminology that is familiar to referral sources and respects their patients, you put yourself in a position to receive a larger share of patient referrals.

The trend among sleep physicians and sleep educators has been to use the term “adherence” in published papers and in one-on-one discussions. Part of the reason for the shift in the clinical community is the general feeling that the term is more acceptable to patients. After all, “compliance” tends to be a passive term, as in “you must comply with my treatment plan,” where “adherence” is more of an empowering term as in “this program will help you adhere to your CPAP therapy.”

Doug Hudiburg is vice president of marketing and sales for CareTouch Communications. He can be reached at or 303.565.2345.