Do You Take Your Medication as Directed?

BY JAMES S. BURKHARDT, D.O.

Taking medication as directed is very important.  Sometimes it really is a matter of life or death.  Even so, people forget to take their medications all the time.  Here are some frightening statistics:

  • One in three patients fail to fill their prescriptions.
  • 32 million American take more than 3 medicines daily.
  • Approximately 75% of adults report that they do not consistently take their medications as directed.
  • It is estimated that about 50% of medication-related hospital admissions in the U.S. are due to poor compliance.
  • Approximately one-fourth of all nursing home admissions are related to improper self-administration of medications.
  • In chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure adherence rates average between 50-65 percent.
  • The economic impact of non-adherence is estimated to be $100 billion annually.
  • Patients who take a medication once per day and are able to do so correctly per prescription instructions is 80 percent.  But it drops to 50 percent if you take a medication 4 times daily. 
  • A Canadian study followed patients who had been hospitalized for a heart attack. After a year, medication compliance declined.   A Swedish study in patients who had suffered a stroke demonstrated the same thing after 2 years. 

There are many reasons why patients do not take their medication as prescribed.  Some are related to the patient themselves, such as poor understanding or lack of involvement in the decision-making process.  Some reasons are related to physicians, such as prescribing a complex medication regimen or poor communication about the risk and nature of potential side effects.  Other reasons fall into a category called “system problems” such as time limitations in the office, or poor access to care or lack of healthy information technology. And let’s not forget about the cost of medication may be prohibitive. 

It is also common for patients to see more than one doctor.  A typical Medicare patient may see 7 physicians in one year: 2 primary care doctors and 5 on more specialists.            

Thus, with so many reasons for non-adherence, it is almost impossible to come up with a strategy that is simple and effective.  Therefore, it is extremely important for you to talk with your doctor or doctors about your medications.  Make sure you are clear on why you are taking medicines and confirm the dosages.  Also, if you are seeing more than one doctor, make sure that they all know that you are receiving medications from different physicians.  

As the former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop reminded us, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.”