The current study suggests that personality is of importance to adherence to short-term treatment, given that Neuroticism, Agreeableness and Conscientiousness played a role in adherence to the antibiotic therapy. Non-adherence was estimated to 9.4%, and the most common reason for prematurely stopping therapy was that the respondent felt healthy.
People with high scores on Neuroticism have a greater propensity to display worry, anxiety and vulnerability to stress. In comparison, low scorers on this personality trait are more inclined to have an even-tempered disposition (Costa, and McCrae 1992). The behavioural tendencies associated with higher scores on Neuroticism may explain the poorer adherence behaviour among the respondents in the present study. The findings are in line with previous research showing associations between higher scores Neuroticism and poorer adherence to long-term medication treatment (Bruce, Hancock, Arnett, and Lynch 2010). It is possible that adherence support for persons with higher scores on Neuroticism should address their worries.
People with high scores on Agreeableness have a propensity to be sympathetic and to cooperate (Costa, and McCrae 1992), which could explain why Agreeableness had a positive influence on adherence to antibiotic therapy in the current study and in previous research focusing adherence to long-term medication treatment for chronic disease (Ediger et al. 2007). People with low scores on this trait tend to be antagonistic, skeptical of others’ intentions and competitive instead of cooperative (Costa, and McCrae 1992). These characteristics may explain why, in the current study, low scores on this trait were associated with non-adherence. Agreeableness concerns interpersonal behaviour, and low scorers on this trait are prone to being sceptical and reluctant (Costa, and McCrae 1992). Thus, we might expect that, for this group, support intended to improve adherence to antibiotic therapy should focus on the health-care relationship and on achieving mutual trust.
There was also a significant relation between Conscientiousness and adherence to antibiotic therapy. Lower scores on this trait were found among the non-adherent respondents. Less conscientious people are less likely to actively plan and organize things and may be somewhat unreliable (Costa, and McCrae 1992), which could explain the non-adherent behaviour of respondents scoring low on Conscientiousness in the current study. Previous research has presented similar associations between this personality trait and adherence to long-term medication treatment for various chronic conditions (Christensen and Smith 1995; O’Cleirigh, Ironson, Weiss, and Costa 2007; Stilley, Sereika, Muldoon, Ryan, and Dunbar-Jacob 2004). Thus, we might expect that this group would benefit from adherence support in the form of help with developing routines for taking antibiotics.
The current results are in line with previous research showing associations between personality traits and adherence behaviour in individuals prescribed long-term medication treatments for various chronic diseases (Christensen and Smith 1995; Ediger, et al. 2007; O’Cleirigh, et al. 2007; Stilley, et al. 2004), which could be seen as a strength. However, it could be argued that assessing and taking personality into consideration is unrealistic in daily clinical practice when prescribing antibiotics for shorter treatment periods for common infections. With reference to our current understanding that inappropriate use of antibiotics could lead to an unnecessary burden for both the individual and the society (The World Health Organization 2012) every effort to increase adherence is of significance. Therefore, an increased understanding of patients’ individual differences may be one option to promote adherence. It may be unreasonable to formally assess personality traits in clinical practice but an increased awareness of patients’ needs and resources should be taken into consideration, according to the results in the current study. The results suggest that efforts to improve adherence should be matched to each patient instead of a “one-method-fits-everyone-approach”.
Personality traits do not explain all the variance in adherence behavior, which indicates that having an awareness of patients’ individual differences, is to be combined with other measures. A Cochrane review describing interventions to improve adherence concluded that measures such as personal phone calls, written information and counseling had a positive effect on adherence to short-term treatments (Haynes, Ackloo, Sahota, McDonald, and Yao 2008). The current study showed that common reasons for stopping therapy prematurely was that the respondent was now healthy and/or experienced side-effects, which indicates that for instance patient information and follow-up tailored to each patient may be recommendable to improve adherence to antibiotic therapy.
Non-adherence to antibiotic therapy in the current study was lower than the average non-adherence in other studies (Kardas, Devine, Golembesky, and Roberts 2005; Pechere, et al. 2007), although requirements for being classified as adherent were stringent. Nevertheless, it is to be noted that Pechere et al. (2007) reported that non-adherence to antibiotic therapy in some countries was almost as low as in the current study. For instance, 9.9% so called “admitted non-compliance” was found in one country. One explanation for the low non-adherence in the current study could be that patients in Sweden are made aware of the importance of taking the full course of antibiotics. Another explanation could be that this low rate could result from the adherence data being gathered by self-reports, which may suffer from bias caused by respondents’ recall or wish to project social desirability, thus leading to unduly high adherence reports (Shumaker, Ockene, and Riekert 2008). Therefore, the use of self-reports to monitor adherence could be viewed as a weakness with the current study. Another possible limitation of the current study is that the items on antibiotic use were not validated. However, they were compared with the MARS (Horne, and Weinman 2002) and the findings were similar, which could be seen as a strength.
A further limitation is the low response rate, which could have implications for the representativeness of the findings. One strength may be that the findings are based on a random population and a non-response study was conducted. To the best of our knowledge, the current study is entering a new area of adherence research by showing that personality traits not only is associated with long-term adherence to medication treatments in various chronic diseases but also seem to be of significance in relation to short-term adherence to antibiotic therapy for common infections. More studies in this research area are needed before any conclusions can be drawn.