Why prescription drugs are not taken by patients

How many patients actually take the prescription drugs that their doctors prescribe them?

Less than you think.

Pauline Chen, in a recent New York Times’ column, discusses the worrisome issue of medication noncompliance.

And the numbers are stark. According to the data, “as many as half of all patients did not follow their doctors’ advice when it came to medications,” and, “more than 20 percent of first-time patient prescriptions were never filled.”

There are costs, of course. Patients who fail to take medications to treat their high blood pressure or diabetes are more likely to suffer complications and have a lower mortality rate. And data from comparative effectiveness studies and efforts from evidence based care will be rendered useless if patients don’t take their prescribed drugs.

Dr. Chen looks at some of the reasons why this is happen. And it comes down to one major reason — accessibility.

Apparently, the process of taking a prescription, driving to a pharmacy and waiting for it to be filled or faxed in is a huge barrier.

One solution would be to have a pharmacy in the physician’s office where patients can pick up their medication on the way out. Large, integrated health systems, like Kaiser in California, do this, lowering their noncompliance rate to around 5%.

We need to do a better job getting patients to take their medications, especially for chronic health conditions. Cost is one factor, but the growing array of generic drugs is making this less of an issue.

Convenience is key to compliance, and that’s something we need to better focus on if we want patients to follow our instructions.

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    Don’t overlook the issue of adverse side-effects. For people like me, with a tendency to have very unpleasant symptoms from many meds, that is a big factor. And it doesn’t help when doctors ignore the reported side-effects.

    Jim Purdy

  • Finn

    Seriously? As many as half of patients don’t take their meds because they can’t be arsed to go to the pharmacy and wait for them? That strikes me as more of an excuse than a real reason. I wonder if a lot of people claiming this reason are embarrassed to admit that they can’t afford their meds, tired of complaining about adverse effects that their providers dismiss, or simply don’t believe that they need to take drugs regularly when they feel fine.

  • http://drpullen.com Edward

    I wrote a post about this earilier. Remembering to take you medication is no small trick. Our office also finds sending the Rx electronically or faxing it to the pharmacy helps. That way if the patient does not show up the pharmacy often calls them to get them to come pick up the Rx. http://drpullen.com/2010/01/14/remembering-to-take-your-medicine/

  • http://solacecounseling.com/ Solace Prescription Addiction Counseling

    It’s sad to see prescription drug abuse go the opposite way of neglect. Neglecting important prescription drugs is just as dangerous as abuse, especially if the prescriptions are filled and left in the home.