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July 18 2017

Ten tips to ensure you get the most benefit from your prescriptions

By Catherine Way, MD

Medication is intended to improve your health and decrease the risk of long-term health complications. Your physician has only one reason for prescribing it: to help you live the healthiest life you can.

It’s important to take medications as prescribed after a visit to the hospital, emergency department, urgent care center or doctor’s office. Antibiotics need to be taken until finished, even if symptoms have resolved.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

  • Twenty to thirty percent of new prescriptions are never filled.
  • Medication is not taken as prescribed 50 percent of the time.
  • The majority of patients who need medication for chronic diseases stop taking it within six months or reduce the dose.

Medication is particularly important for people with conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Poorly controlled blood pressure can lead to serious health consequences, including heart attack and stroke. Inadequately controlled diabetes can lead to damaged eyesight, vascular disease that can result in amputation, kidney damage, and an increased risk of heart problems.

For people with heart disease, not taking medication can be life-threatening. According to a study published in the American Heart Journal in 2013, nonadherence to cardiovascular medications such as statins or beta blockers was associated with a 10 percent to 40 percent increase in the risk of hospitalization and a 50 percent to 80 percent relative increase in the risk of death. Other studies have shown that poor adherence to heart failure drugs is associated with an increase in heart-related emergency department visits.

If skipping medication can cause serious health problems, why do people do it? The answer varies by individual.

Some people are concerned about experiencing side effects, managing costs or swallowing pills. Others may have a hard time remembering when or how to take medication. Some inaccurately believe that if a serious illness is over or their symptoms are mild, they don’t really need the medication.

Overcome barriers

Barriers to taking medication as prescribed can be overcome. Here are 10 steps to help solve problems with medications:

  1. Fill all prescriptions at the same pharmacy. This allows the pharmacist to know your medication history, see whether any medications will interact with each other, and follow packaging requests.
  2. In addition to receiving information about a prescription from a physician or nurse, also ask the pharmacist to explain the instructions and side effects again when you pick up the medication. Read the printed information and keep it.
  3. Talk to the pharmacist about practical concerns such as managing refills; organizing pills in labeled containers; larger type on labeling or instructions; or how taking medication can be made easier, especially for children. Pharmacists also can help with special medication caps or other packaging.
  4. Organize multiple medications in a pill container marked with the days of the week. Fill the container at the same time every week. Keep the pill container and reminder information near where you take the medication but away from children. For longer-term medication, also store instructions and the labeled prescription bottle with one pill inside in a safe place. You will have it for refill information and in case you need to identify it later.
  5. Take medication at the same time daily and in the same way. Develop a reminder system using a calendar, smart phone, watch, computer or list. Note any details that may be hard to remember.
  6. Pack medication and instructions for travel, and carry it onto airplanes. Ask the pharmacist if the medication comes in individual blister packs, if that is easier.
  7. Write down any problems or questions regarding medication and discuss these with your prescriber or pharmacist. Include as many details as possible, such as when side effects occur.
  8. Tell your doctor if you skip or forget to take medication multiple times. Ask for a review of the medication’s benefits and the consequences of not taking it as prescribed.
  9. Inquire about alternatives, such as lower-cost generic medication options, whether pills can be crushed or cut in half, or whether dosages can be adjusted to affect the number of pills needed.
  10. Enlist the support of loved ones. Ask them to pick up refills and to help in remembering when and how to take medication.  Ask for help in following dietary guidelines. Shop for, prepare and eat healthier foods together.

The next time a medication is prescribed for you, be sure to understand why it has been prescribed and how to take it so that you can feel confident you are following your provider’s instructions. If you need help or advice, don’t hesitate to ask your provider or pharmacist.

Catherine Way, MD, is a physician with ProHealth Medical Group in Hartland. She is board certified in family medicine and is affiliated with ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital and ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Visit ProHealthCare.org/Doctors or call 262-928-2745 for help finding a physician near you.

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For more than a century, ProHealth Care has been the health care leader in Waukesha County and surrounding areas, providing outstanding care across a full spectrum of services. The people of ProHealth Care strive to continuously improve the health and well-being of the community by combining skill, compassion and innovation. The ProHealth family includes ProHealth Waukesha Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital, ProHealth Rehabilitation Hospital of Wisconsin, ProHealth Medical Group, the UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care, Moreland Surgery Center, ProHealth AngelsGrace Hospice, ProHealth Home Care, ProHealth West Wood Health & Fitness Center and ProHealth Regency Senior Communities. Learn more at ProHealthCare.org.