Medicine has the power to help and to heal, but if it isn’t taken properly - or worse, not taken at all - it can’t do its job. Sadly, this scenario plays out half the time medicine is prescribed. That means that every time a doctor writes a prescription, it has a 50/50 chance of being followed by the patient.
When patients don’t adhere to their medicines – failing to get the prescriptions filled and take them as prescribed by their doctor – they run the risk of worsening health conditions and even death. Health care experts estimate that nonadherence costs the U.S. health care system hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
Why don’t some patients take their medicines as directed?
According to one study, as many as one in three patients never even fill their prescriptions. This may be because patients cannot afford the cost of the medicine, but other complex factors can be social , therapy-related or condition-related.
Nonadherence can happen unintentionally, like when patients forget doses, or intentionally, in cases when patients willfully stop taking their medicines as prescribed because they start to feel better or because continuing treatment is cost-prohibitive. Patients are also more likely to forget their doctor’s instructions if they are nervous. The number of pills and the duration of treatment can also factor into adherence success.
Are there any ways to improve medication adherence?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released eight tips to help patients take their medicines as prescribed or instructed. Tips include taking the medicine at the same time each day and tying medicines to a daily routine. Patients can also create a medications calendar or use a pill container with separate boxes for each day of the week. One study showed that patients who receive mail-order medicines at home were more likely to be adherent.
For patients who are not taking their medicines properly because of cost, other options exist. Patients who are uninsured, underinsured or struggling with the cost of medicines may qualify for drug assistance through the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA), a free and confidential service designed to help people match with programs that could provide them with their medicines for free or at a discount.
Remember to talk with your doctor if you have questions about your prescription, or if you are experiencing side effects.
If you or someone you love struggles with affordable access to medicines, there are resources available that may be able to help: The Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA) helps connect patients with patient assistance programs that provide free or nearly free prescription medicines. For more information, visit www.pparx.org.