Are You Taking Your Medication Correctly?
When your doctor prescribes you medication, do you take it when and how you should? Do you take it at all?
A new study by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that about half of American patients don’t take their medicines correctly for long-term conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, and up to 30% of prescriptions are not even filled. Howard LeWine, MD, of the Harvard Medical School Review, says non-compliance with medication regimens is thought to contribute to 125,000 deaths annually, and can lead to poorer health and higher health care costs for patients. In a country almost half of Americans used at least one prescription drug in the past month, the news is striking.
“If you don’t comply with your medication regimen, you are not going to control the medical condition it was prescribed for,” says Michael P. Zimring, MD, internist and Medical Director of Travel Medicine Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. “For instance, if you don’t take your blood pressure medication, you might get a heart attack or stroke.”
Why don’t people comply with their medication regimen?
High cost: “Sometimes patients don’t comply with their medication regimen because they can’t afford it and have to make a choice between food or medication,” says Dr. Zimring. The study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that those who pay less out-of-pocket for prescriptions are more likely to comply with their medication regimen.
Lack of doctor instruction: “Some physicians don’t express the importance of the medication or clearly explain why it is needed,” says Dr. Zimring. Medical language, unfamiliar to most patients, can be confusing and hinder the clear delivery of instructions.
Lack of patient education: “Patients who are well educated regarding why they’re being prescribed a medication are generally more compliant with the regimen,” says Stuart Gitlow, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, NY.
Side effects of medication: “Patients will sometimes stop taking a medication because of an unpleasant, but medically harmless side effect, and then don’t tell their physician and don’t follow up,” says Dr. Gitlow. “These patients should return to their physician to figure out a solution: perhaps the dosage could be lowered, or an alternative medication found.”
Their symptoms stop: Many people believe if there’s smoke, there’s fire, and if there’s no smoke, there must be no fire. Not so, says Dr. Zimring: “The patient may not have any symptoms, but that doesn’t mean they’re okay. The first symptom of high blood pressure is usually a heart attack.”
What can I do to comply with my medication regimen in order to improve my health condition(s)?
Communicate with your doctor: Ask your doctor what he or she is prescribing you and why it is important that you take it. Also, make sure you understand your doctor’s instructions for taking your medication. Questions to ask include:
How many times a day should I be taking this medication?
How many pills per day should I be taking?
What time of day should I take the medication?
Will I need to change my dose before my next appointment?
Ask him or her to write down the instructions on a piece of paper for your reference. You may also want to ask him or her to direct you to informative websites that can help you further educate yourself.
Also, if you do stop taking your medication, it’s important to inform your doctor, as he or she may increase the dosage, believing that you are complying.
Ask questions about cost: If cost is a hurdle in accessing medication, ask your provider if there is a generic medication available that may be more affordable with the same efficacy. If there is no generic available, ask your provider if there is another medication that may have a generic available for the same condition. Other important questions you may want to ask to become more informed are:
What are the most common side effects that I may experience?
When do I need to follow up to check my progress with the medication?
Do I need follow up laboratory studies based on the medication I am taking?