Did I Take My Medicine Today? Tips to Help You Remember

Lt Jeffrey G. Newman, PharmD
Published Online: Thursday, August 1, 2002

Did I take my medicine today? If you ever find yourself asking this question, you are certainly not alone. Many people?25% to 50%?do not follow all the directions when it comes to taking their medicines properly. This is called noncompliance. Noncompli-ance is more than just skipping a pill. It can mean:

? Not taking the drug at all
? Taking only some of the prescription
? Not taking the medications at the correct time of day
? Not taking the drug as directed, eg, with food
? Taking the drug too often

Each year new medications are found that improve the health and well-being of millions of people, from lowering blood pressure to treating diabetes. But no matter how potent the pill or strong the syrup, no medicine can make you well if it is not taken the right way.

The Problem of Noncompliance
Not taking medications properly is costly in terms of both money and lives. The National Pharmaceutical Council estimates that noncompliance with prescribed medications costs more than $100 billion a year in increased emergency room visits, hospital and nursing home admissions, and lost productivity. In addition, about 125,000 people die each year from noncompli-ance?almost twice the number of deaths from automobile accidents.

Why Are Some Patients Noncompliant?
Most people mean to take their medication as directed. But the following things sometimes get in the way:

? Simple forgetfulness
? Feel uncomfortable taking medicines in front of other people
? Cannot afford the cost of medications
? No one has explained what the medicine is for or how to take it
? Side effects
? Too busy
? Medication regimen is too complicated
? Have to take medicines many times throughout the day

You Can Help Yourself Be Compliant
There are ways to address any of these reasons for not taking your medicines the right way. One good thing to remember is to talk with your doctor and pharmacist. They can offer many solutions to help.

Simple forgetfulness
Keep a calendar in the kitchen and make a mark each time you take your medications. Ask a family member or friend to remind you to take your pills. Use a weekly pill box?you have to fill it only once a week, and there are different compartments for different times of the day. If the tablets and capsules are gone, you took them! There are even medication reminder watches and caps for the prescription drug bottle that beep when it?s time to take your medicines. Ask your pharmacist for recommendations.

Feel uncomfortable taking medicines in front of other people
Keep your medicine bottles in your purse or a small travel pill box in your pocket or briefcase, and simply excuse yourself to go to the rest room or other private area to take your medicines.

Cannot afford the cost of medications
Many pharmaceutical companies have financial assistance programs that can help?ask your doctor or pharmacist for suggestions. It is also a good idea to review your insurance program that covers prescription drugs so that you know your options. And remember, the cost of not taking your medicines properly is usually much higher than the cost of the medicines themselves.

No one has explained what the medicine is for or how to take it
The more you know about your medicine and how it should be used, the more likely you?ll be to use it. And this is where your doctor and pharmacist can help the most. Be sure to ask as many questions as you need to fully understand what the medicine is for and how to take it the right way. Many pharmacies have counseling areas where you can ask questions in private. Be sure to ask for and read any printed materials available for your medicine or condition. You can also use the Internet to look up information on your medicine or condition. But be careful which Web sites you visit. The information on some sites is not reliable. Government or pharmaceutical company sites are a good place to start, or your doctor or pharmacist may be able to recommend a trustworthy source.

Side effects
The first thing to do when side effects occur is to talk with your health care provider. Sometimes simply adjusting the dose or the time of day you take your medicine is all that?s required. Other times, a change in medicine may be needed.

Too busy
Pillboxes of various shapes and sizes can come in handy. Fill them once a week, and make a consistent effort to take them wherever you go.

Medication regimen is too complicated
Talking with your physician or pharmacist is the first place to start. Many medications are now made so that you have to take them only once or twice a day. Your doctor may be able to otherwise simplify your regimen.

Taking your medications exactly as prescribed can greatly enhance the quality of your life and keep you healthy and feeling good.

The author is senior assistant pharmacy officer with the US Public Health Service (PHS)/Indian Health Service, Whiteriver PHS Hospital, Whiteriver, AZ. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Indian Health Service.



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