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Just What the Doctor Ordered: The Importance of Taking Your Medication as Prescribed

Using medications correctly at the right time and in the right way as prescribed by your doctor can help keep you healthy and control medical issues, but not everyone sticks to those rules. What they might not realize, however, is not doing so can have some grim consequences.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 20 to 30 percent of medication prescriptions are never filled and in 50 percent of cases, patients don’t continue medication as prescribed. Unfortunately, non-adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of chronic disease treatment failures and 125,000 deaths per year.

Medication adherence is a huge issue faced by many people,” said Kelly Erdos, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist with Banner Baywood Medical Center. “I always tell patients I work with that you can be on all the right medication, but if you don’t take them, then they’re not going to work.”

Why medication non-adherence?

There are countless reasons medications aren’t being used as prescribed, and not all of them are intentional. Here are two common reasons and five ways to keep you on track.

“I’m feeling better. I can stop taking medication.”

Sticking to medication may seem like a chore, especially if you’re feeling better, but you should never abandon prescribed medication. If you aren’t taking a certain medication, or medications, as prescribed by your doctor, there can be several negative outcomes.

“If you’ve started on a new blood pressure medication but you’re not taking it regularly, it may not properly control your blood pressure,” Dr. Erdos said. “If your doctor thinks you’re taking the medication as prescribed, they may look at high blood pressure readings as a sign that you need additional medication. But that may not be the case.”

“My medication is too expensive. Missing one dose or taking a half-dose here and there to save a little shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Your doctor may not notice you’ve missed a few doses here and there, however, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t bad for your body and health.

“Medications like those for your thyroid or blood thinners may have a huge impact if only one dose is missed,” Dr. Erdos said. “There are even certain medications, like those for depression, that can have serious withdrawal symptoms when even a few doses are missed.”

Don’t let cost be a hindrance to getting the treatment you need. Your doctor can help you find an alternative.

5 Important medication rules to follow

Taking your medication as prescribed is important to controlling chronic conditions, treating temporary ones and overall health and well-being. Here are five ways that may help:

  • Don’t skip doses or take half-doses to save some money. Let your doctor know if you are having issues with the cost of the medication, if you’ve missed doses, want to stop medication or are experiencing certain side effects, so they can address accordingly.
  • Don’t double-up your medication if you forget either. Too much at one time could be dangerous. Let your doctor know if you are having trouble remembering or check out the tips below for helpful reminders.
  • Complete all medication until it’s finished or until your doctor says it’s okay to stop. You might be feeling better (and that’s great!), but it’s important to understand that means the recommended dose is working.
  • Don’t take someone else’s medication. You don’t know if this medication will interact with medications you are taking, it could be in the wrong dose for you, it could be dangerous to your medical condition or you could simply be allergic to the medication.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about medication interactions. Some medications can be less effective or cause health issues with certain foods and alcohol.

Tips to stick to your medication routine

  1. Purchase a daily pill box or container.
  2. Use a phone alarm set to remind you when each dose should be taken.
  3. Associate taking your medication with a specific action, such as having breakfast or brushing your teeth, and take them at the same time every day.
  4. Get refilled prescriptions in advance and schedule routine appointments with your doctor to monitor your progress and make sure prescriptions are up to date.
  5. When you travel, make sure you bring enough medication, plus a few extra doses in case your return is delayed, and always keep it in your carry-on.
  6. Understand why you need the medication you are taking and how that medication works. If you don’t understand why you are taking certain medication, make sure you ask.

“Always know that as a patient, you are one of the most important members of your healthcare team,” Dr. Erdos said. “The more you know about your health and the medications you are taking the better.”

If you have questions about the medication you are taking, talk to your doctor and pharmacist.

Additional resources:

Wellness Pharmacy