African American doctor hands a prescription medication bottle to a female patient. The doctor is holding the patient's chart.

Listen to Your Doctor: Why Medication Adherence Matters

When it comes to prescriptions, medication adherence is a simple yet life-saving action. In general, it refers to a patient’s ability to properly follow their doctor’s instructions. That includes the amount, duration and frequency of dosage.

Prescription guidelines are established for the benefit of each patient. Not only do they ensure the drug works properly, they also lower the risk of potential side effects. Yet, approximately 50% of filled prescriptions are taken incorrectly. This significantly increases one’s chance of experiencing physical and financial difficulties.

  • Drug Interactions: It’s important for doctors and patients to discuss how prescribed medication may interact with other substances. For example: Alcohol is often prohibited alongside pain relievers, anti-depressants and antipsychotics. Depending on the drug, the effects can range from mild to severe and include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, as well as low or high blood pressure.
  • Overdose: In 2017, more than 70,000 deaths were attributed to drug overdose. It’s a tragic yet preventable outcome attributed to intentional and unintentional misuse. Overdosing occurs when a person ingests more than their recommended dosage or combines multiple substances. Some signs include shallow breathing, seizures, clammy skin and a weak pulse.
  • Financial Burden: Beyond the biological effects, non-adherence can take a financial toll. It costs the U.S. health care system an estimated $100 billion to $289 billion per year and is responsible for 10% of hospitalizations. Some patients may even need extended rehabilitation, which requires additional man hours.

The cause of medication non-adherence is specific to the individual. Some people actively disregard instructions, while others genuinely forget. Luckily, there are many ways one can stay on track. A common tool among older adults is a pill dispenser or pill box. They have seven slots, which correspond with each day of the week. It’s an easy and affordable way to manage both frequency and dosage.

Also, don’t forget to mark your calendar. Whether it’s on your smartphone, refrigerator or wall, it’s good to have a visual reminder. Some may set an alarm to ensure medication is taken at the same time, every day. It helps to make it a part of your daily routine. Like brushing your teeth or washing your face, the action should become automatic.

Overall, talk to your doctors about the health risks associated with your prescription. Make sure you have a clear understanding of its usage and desired effect. Also, inquire about any restrictions, including substances that may have a negative interaction.

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Photo credit: SDI Productions

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