APRIL 19TH, 2022
While it’s not always the case that a pill a day keeps the doctor away, there is something to be said for consistency when it comes to medications.
Medication adherence largely refers to taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor or explained by your pharmacist. That boils down to:
The right dose (e.g., two pills).
At the right time (e.g., each pill 12 hours apart).
In the right way (e.g., with food).
For the right length of time (e.g., seven consecutive days).
Why is medication adherence so crucial, though? It’s easier to answer that question by talking about the consequences of the medication nonadherence.
Let’s say our friend Jane has been battling a fever and red, swollen tonsils for several days. She finally decides it’s time to visit a doctor. The provider examines her, diagnoses her with strep throat, and then prescribes her a 10-day course of penicillin to clear the bacterial infection. Jane picks up her prescription from a nearby pharmacy, and she takes her first dose as directed later that day.
By day three, Jane is feeling better — so much better that she thinks, “I’m cured, so why should I continue popping pills for seven more days?” Convinced she doesn’t need to continue the medication, she pushes the pill bottle to the back of her medicine cabinet and returns to her usual routines.
However, doing so isn’t a good idea. Even after her symptoms have dissipated, small numbers of bacteria can persist. Stopping her antibiotics early increases her risk of getting sick again — but this time, her infection might be more resistant to the medication. This could make her illness harder to treat, increase her risk for complications, and add more line items to Jane’s final medical bill.
Medication nonadherence is dangerous and can even be deadly. Every year, an estimated 125,000 Americans die because of medication nonadherence. Between 33% and 69% of medication-related hospital admissions are a direct result of nonadherence, and the average length of those hospital stays is 4.2 days.
In short, a failure to take your medication can result in worse health outcomes and costly medical bills. Despite these consequences, an estimated 40% of patients don’t adhere to their medication regimens — and when it comes to folks with chronic illnesses, that figure is closer to 50%. Even more sobering, 20% to 30% of new prescriptions go unfilled.
It’s easy to see these figures and think, “I would never do that!” However, we must approach this issue from a place of compassion. No one wants to land themselves in the hospital due to medication nonadherence, but several factors can discourage patients from maintaining medication compliance. These include:
1. Unpleasant side effects: Some medications include pretty gnarly side effects that make it difficult to continue taking them as directed. A 2017 study found that side effects were the only statistically significant element influencing medication adherence among patients with chronic diseases.
Solution: Ask about potential side effects when you’re prescribed a medication, and inform your providers of any past medication reactions. If side effects become intolerable, don’t stop taking the medication before contacting your healthcare provider for guidance. They may be able to change your prescription or discuss alternative treatments.
2. Prohibitive costs: This one shouldn’t surprise anyone who has dealt with the American healthcare system. The out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs can be prohibitive, and far too many people are forced to choose between paying for life-saving medications and necessities such as housing or food.
Solution: Look into alternative forms of payment. For instance, many Paytient members use their Paytient cards to pay for prescription drugs. They can then pay that bill back over whatever amount of time makes sense for their budget — without interest or fees. Additionally, resources like GoodRx offer free coupons that could help you save a significant amount on prescription drugs. Finally, ask your pharmacist about the price differences between brand-name and generic medications. Generic drugs have the same active ingredients but often come with a significant discount.
3. Forgetfulness: Chronically ill or disabled patients might be juggling multiple drugs at once, each with its own directions and doses. One study found that forgetting to take medications is a challenge that affects 62% of patients.
Solution: Ask a loved one to be your medication accountability partner to help you remember to take your prescriptions. You can also purchase pillboxes that are outfitted with alarms to remind you to take your medication as prescribed.
Medication nonadherence is a serious issue among many patients. By working to understand the root causes of nonadherence, we can find solutions that promote better health outcomes and help people save money.
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