Nearly half of all people with a chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or heart disease do not take their medications correctly or adhere to their medication schedule as prescribed. This can lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of their medications, treatment failure and a worsening of their condition.
Unfortunately, I see this all too often working in the pharmacy setting. Some of the signs and clues I pick up on are patients who are:
- Not filling or picking up a new prescription or not refilling an existing prescription on time.
- Stopping a medicine before the instructions say they should.
- Taking more or less of the prescribed medicine than the prescription calls for.
Some of the other medication adherence problems include taking the wrong medication; taking medicine at the wrong time; taking an “old” medication for a new problem without consulting their doctor; taking somebody else’s medication or forgetting if they took their medication and repeating the dose.
Stick to your prescription routine: Taking a drug as prescribed simply means sticking to the prescription medication routine your doctor has ordered for you. Adhering to your medications is always taking your medications as directed by your healthcare professional. Not taking medications as prescribed is called non-adherence.
If you don’t take your medicine as prescribed, you could end up in the hospital or back at your doctor’s office sooner because you’re not recovering or — worse — your disease is progressing. Don’t think that doesn’t happen; there are about 125,000 deaths per year due to using medicines incorrectly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Be medication smart: There are a few things you can do to improve your understanding of your medications. Learning about your medications, what they are for and how to take them properly will help. I recommend you start by learning the names of your medications. Studies have shown that patients who learn the names of their medications are more compliant with their regime than those who only recognize medications by color, size and shape.
Knowing the names of your medications will help you better understand the verbal instructions and any written medication materials given to you. It will make it easier for you to search online for more information about your medications. It also empowers you to better discuss medications with your doctor or pharmacist.
Other steps you should take:
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your medications in depth so you understand what they do. Get your questions answered and follow up if you have questions later.
- Consult with your pharmacist and healthcare provider if you have concerns about side effects from your medications. Don’t let side effects persuade you to stop taking your medication on your own.
- Fill your prescriptions in a timely manner, new prescriptions and refills, so you don’t run out of medication.
- Use medication pill boxes or other medication management and reminder tools to help you remember to take your medications at the right time each and every day. MedShadow has a form where you can list the drugs you take, how often to take them and for what conditions. This can help you keep track of all the medications you are taking.
Remember that pharmacists are considered the most accessible of any health care providers in the US. Use the availability of their counsel and expertise to your advantage to improve your health.
Dave Walker, RPh, is a pharmacist and a member of the MedShadow medical advisory board. He has practiced in multiple pharmacy settings as a pharmacy owner, hospital director of pharmacy, district manager for a pharmacy staffing agency, and currently director of pharmacy at a rural, nonprofit clinic and pharmacy. You can follow him on Twitter @drwalker_rph.