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.