Why Is It So Hard to Take Medication as Prescribed?

assorted pills: Why Is It So Hard to Take Medication as PrescribedWhy is it so hard to take medication as prescribed? It seems quite obvious that if your doctor prescribes medicine, that taking these medications, as your doctor has prescribed, is a good idea. However, studies have shown that more than 50% of US adults do not take their medications as prescribed; nearly 35% of patients discharged from the Emergency Department don’t even pick up their prescriptions.

How serious is this issue? Medication non-compliance, such as skipping or delaying a dose, or taking the wrong dosage, leads to thousand of adverse health events or deaths every month in the US1.

Certainly no patient decides that taking the wrong dose of a life saving medication is a good idea. So why does this happen?

I think the following factors contribute to patients struggling with medication compliance:

Not understanding exactly how and when to take medications.

As many as 50% of patients don’t understand instructions written on prescription bottles.2 When getting new medications, it is essential to ask questions about how, when and why to take each medication. For instance, if you are prescribed a medication to be taken 2 times/day, when should those times be? Breakfast and dinner? Every 12 hours?

Financial concerns.

There are some patients who don’t pick up prescriptions because of expense, and others who skip pills, or cut pills in half, to save money. If money is an issue for you, ask your doctor if there are less expensive alternatives. Many times doctors have no idea how much medications cost, and may be able to substitute either a generic or a cheaper medication. Additionally, there are many prescription assistance programs that patients can use if they cannot afford their medications. Visit the Zaggo Resource Center for a list of programs.

Forgetting to take medications.

It is so easy to forget whether or not you have taken a particular medication. It is critical to set up a system so you remember to take each medication as prescribed. If you are on multiple medications, use a simple weekly pill organizer that you can buy at any pharmacy. It is also suggested that you set an alarm on your cell phone (or other device) to remind yourself when it is time to take medications. For complicated regimens, consider using Zaggo’s Medication and Treatment Chart.

Concern over side effects.

It is never a good idea to stop a medication, even if it is making you sick, without speaking to your doctor. Before you start a new medication, ask your doctor about possible side effects, and what to do if you experience any of them. For some medications, it can be dangerous to stop suddenly, so speaking to your doctor is always a good idea.

Stopping because you feel good.

Although you might feel better, it is important to stay on the medication as long as the doctor has prescribed. If you think you should stop, ask your doctor first.

Do yourself a huge favor and pay close attention to your medication regimens. Your life may depend on it.


(1)O’Connor,P.Improving Medication Adherence: Challenges for Physicians, Payers, and Policy Makers. 
     Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(17):1802-1804.
(2) O’Reilly, K. Prescription Drug Containers May Get Simpler Labels. Amed News; Jan. 17, 2011.
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