Doctors Orders: Take as Prescribed?

Last time you were prescribed an antibiotic, did you take every pill in the bottle or packet as directed, or take them for the recommended number of consecutive days? Or, like millions of medical consumers, did you take them the first few days and then stop when you were feeling better?

Do you remember to take your blood pressure pills, cholesterol meds, or other prescriptions every day? Are you eating what you need to eat or avoiding what you shouldn’t be eating, again per your physician’s recommendations? Did you stop smoking yet, or cut back on caffeine and alcohol?  Do you visit a doctor annually for a full physical or for recommended preventive screenings based on your age and gender?

This isn’t a lecture, it’s pointing out a dangerous reality shared by many of us – the failure to comply with pharmaceutical or medical recommendations…or to even understand them.

Truth is, more than one in four Americans don’t follow their physicians’ guidance. That’s a huge problem, and in the case of medications – where the number of non-compliers is even higher – failing to take prescriptions as prescribed is common, costly, and can be deadly. Medicines are an important part of treatment for serious infections. They can help relieve pain and lift depression. They also can help combat some of the nation’s leading causes of death and disability by helping control many common chronic diseases and lower the complications associated with them.

Consider these statistics on just Rx non-compliance alone:

  • 75 percent of patients sometimes fail to take their medications as directed.
  • 33 percent of prescriptions are never filled.
  • 50 to 60 percent of the time, patients with chronic conditions do not take their medications.
  • 33 to 69 percent of medication-related hospitalizations are linked to drug noncompliance.
  • 125,000 patient deaths each year are linked to drug noncompliance.
  • $290 billion is spent annually on care needed because of medication noncompliance.
  • Why we don’t comply and how to improve our odds

    There are dozens of reasons for why we don’t take our medications as prescribed. We forget to take them. We leave them at home. They upset our stomachs or make us drowsy. They cost too much. They taste lousy. They’re hard to swallow. Or, we don’t understand why we’re taking them or how they help us, so we don’t take it seriously. It also could be because of cultural issues, language problems, or literacy challenges.

    Taking medications on time and correctly is extremely important. When we don’t take medications as prescribed, they may not work as well as they should, or we may have a greater risk for side effects. Also, many drugs work over a longer period and in less obvious ways. People who don’t take their blood pressure or cholesterol medications may feel well, but their blood pressure or cholesterol numbers may be rising. That can increase their risk for heart attack or stroke.

    Here are tips to help medications work safely and effectively:

    • Gather information. Request brochures and pamphlets from your doctor’s office about a condition and medication. Ask your doctor to recommend reliable websites that may help. Your nurse-information service is another good resource, if you have access to one.
    • Make a list of your medications. Include all medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal remedies that you use. Share this list with all your doctors and your pharmacist, and keep it up-to-date. This makes it easier for medical professionals to spot – and hopefully prevent – potentially dangerous drug interactions.
    • Don’t rely on your memory. Buy a special pill case that’s divided into the days of the week. Then keep it somewhere in plain sight but safe from children. Newer boxes have built-in alarms. Also, take your medication at the same time every day, like when you brush your teeth or feed the dog. Set your watch or cell phone alarm to go off when you need to take a dose. Even a note on the refrigerator may help you remember.
    • Talk with your doctor. Before you stop taking a medication or start taking fewer doses to save money or simplify your schedule, call your doctor – even if symptoms disappear or you don’t think the medicine is working. Suddenly stopping some medications can be dangerous.
    • Ask about a simpler schedule. If you just can’t keep track of all your medications and when to take them, ask your doctor for help. With some medications, you may be able to switch to a different dose that doesn’t need to be taken as often.
    • Explore more affordable options. Prescriptions can take a big bite out of your budget, even if your health benefits include drug coverage. But, taking less medication or skipping doses isn’t a safe way to save money. If you’ve been prescribed a brand-name medication, ask your doctor about using a generic instead. It will have the same active ingredients as its brand-name version but may cost less. Some pharmacies and drug companies offer discount cards. Additionally, you may be able to buy a larger dose and split it to save money. It may be cheaper, for instance, to buy 200 mg tablets and break them in half if you only need 100 mg. But ask your pharmacist because selected medications are not safe to split apart.

    Taking your medication as directed is just one part of a comprehensive strategy for staying healthy. Ask questions if you’re not sure what you’re taking and why you’re taking it, and especially if you’re in doubt about instructions.

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    Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!