It’s important to take your medication as your doctor prescribed since it will likely give you the best chance of feeling better. However, for a number of reasons, many patients find it hard to take medications exactly as prescribed. In fact, it’s so hard that over 50% of US adults don’t take their medication as prescribed. This post provides tips to take medication as prescribed that will help you avoid medication related problems.
How important is it to take medication as prescribed?
Very! Medication non-compliance, such as skipping or delaying a dose, or taking the wrong dosage, leads to an estimated 125,000 deaths in the US each year. And it’s responsible for up to 25% of all hospitalizations.
Ask the right questions when getting new medications.
When doctors prescribe a new medication, it’s important to ask questions about why, how and when to take each medication. And, don’t rely on the medication label to provide you with important information. Research shows that up to 50% of patients don’t understand instructions written on prescription bottles.
Why are labels hard to understand? Problems can arise from several issues, including:
- Small print that is difficult to read.
- Vague instructions.
- Unfamiliar terms.
Key questions to ask your doctor when getting a new medication:
- When should I take this medication, specifically? For example, does 3 times/day mean at meals or every 8 hours?
- How should I take this medication? With or without food?
- Any particular food or beverages to avoid while taking this medication?
- How will I know if it is working?
- What side effects should you watch out for? What should you do if they occur?
- Can I crush pills? Split pills?
- What to do if I miss a dose?
- How should I store it?
Importantly, be realistic about your ability, or willingness, to follow your doctor’s medication regimens. Share any concerns with your doctor. For instance, if you expect that the side effects may keep you from taking a medication, discuss this with your doctor.
Make sure you get the correct prescription at the pharmacy.
Unfortunately, studies show that up to 20% of prescriptions are filled with errors. This means that tens of millions, if not more, of prescriptions are not correct each year in the US. Most of the mistakes are relatively minor, but approximately 6% could potentially be harmful.
These errors include misreading the doctor’s prescription (many medications have similar sounding names), putting the wrong medication in the prescription container, or using a label with the wrong person’s name or wrong instructions.
Here are some suggestions to help you avoid these issues:
- When your doctor prescribes a medication, take a moment before leaving the doctor’s office to carefully write down the name and dosage of each medication – ask the doctor for correct spelling.
- Before you pay for the medication at the pharmacy, double check that you are getting the right medications. Keep in mind that correcting a mistake is much easier before you pay.
- If a medication looks different than it previously appeared (change in color, shape or size), ask the pharmacist to confirm the medication name and dosage before taking it.
Set up easy to use reminders and organizers
An important thing to remember is that you won’t remember if you’ve taken your meds! When dealing with a serious medical condition, you not only feel under the weather, you are likely overwhelmed and stressed.
Use pill organizers (the simple plastic containers with daily compartments for your pills) or you could easily find yourself wondering if you took your pills.
Or you could get your medication in presorted prescription packs labeled by dose, date and time. With these packets, you just grab the right packet at the right time, and take each pill. You can get your medication this way through CVS or PillPack. Of course, if you have medications that come in liquid form, or you use injections, these packets will not work.
And keep your pills in a location associated with your pill schedule. For instance, keep any pills you take with breakfast where you prepare or eat breakfast.
Additionally, set up a system to remind yourself to take your pills at each time of the day. Using your cell phone is an easy way to make sure you have a reminder that you can take with you at all times. You can either set alarms at the prescribed times, or you can use one of the many medication reminder apps available for smartphones.
For complicated medication and treatment regimens, use the ZaggoCare chart that you can upload to your computer here.
Don’t just stop taking a medication.
Speak to your doctor before stopping any medication. Whether you want to stop due to side effects or a belief that you no longer need a medication, suddenly stopping some medications can be dangerous.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that even if a medication doesn’t make you feel better, taking it as prescribed gives you and your doctor valuable information about which medications are working and which ones are not.
Don’t let financial concerns keep you from your medication.
Medications can be very expensive, even with excellent insurance plans. It can be tempting to save money by only taking 1/2 pill at a time, or by skipping days, or even by not picking up the prescription in the first place.
However, not taking the correct dosage can seriously impact your health. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to ease your financial burden of medications, as follows:
You can talk to your doctor about money concerns.
- First and foremost, tell your doctor that you are struggling to pay for your medications. Although this can be an uncomfortable conversation, your doctor might be able to help. Your doctor may suggest less expensive generics or alternative medications, or provide you with free samples or coupons for discounts.
- Ask your doctor if you can order a higher dosage pill that you could split in 1/2 before taking. Generally buying the higher dosage pill is not significantly more expensive than the lower dosage pill, allowing you to save money by getting two doses from each pill. If you are splitting pills, be sure to use a pill splitter, a small inexpensive tool you can buy at the pharmacy.
Look into your coverage by your insurance plan.
- Insurance companies have tiered lists of drugs they will cover. Generally the higher the premiums you pay, the higher the tier level covered. You can check the tier level of a new medication on your insurance website or ask your doctor to check. If the drug will not be covered, ask your doctor if a “lower tier” medication can be substituted. If you or a family member take many expensive medications, a higher priced plan might save you money in the long run.
- Find out if your insurance plan has negotiated discounts with a particular pharmacy chain, and if so, use the preferred pharmacy for all of your medications.
- Shop around. Not all pharmacies charge the same price for the same medication. As the old saying goes “let your fingers do the walking” and call pharmacies in your area. Be sure to have specific information for the medication, including dosage, and your insurance information.
- Order your prescriptions by mail. Many health plans provide lower cost options of ordering your prescriptions through the mail. Getting a 90 day prescription can save you even more. Beware of ordering your prescriptions by mail or computer yourself – many of the seemingly authentic pharmacies are sham pharmacies selling old or counterfeit medications. Read my blog post on black market drugs to learn more.
Get financial help.
- Contact the pharmaceutical company (search for the company’s website) for a medication you can’t afford — many have assistance programs. You can also look up medications and pharmaceutical companies on the free website NeedyMeds.
- There are organizations that provide financial help for prescriptions. For a list of organizations, visit Zaggo’s Resource Center.
- Learn more by reading these blog post How to Save Money on Prescription Medications
To reduce your risk of medication-related issues, read these blog posts:
- What’s an Adverse Drug Reaction?
- Reduce Your Risk of Medication Errors.
- Reduce the Risk of Medication Errors in Rehab Facilities.
- Are Antibiotics Helpful or Harmful? What You Need to Know.
- Doctors Prescribe Too Many Medications.
- Are Medications Safe?
- Is Off-Label Medication Safe?
NOTE: I updated this post on 6-1-22.