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Living Well

Take Your Meds—and Take Them Right!

Last updated: Aug 15, 2016

You have your prescription.  You’ve got your doctor’s instructions.  And now you’re on the road to wellness.  But there’s a common detour from that road that often sets patients back: failure to take medication as directed—or at all.

Following a medication regimen—known as “medication adherence”—can be a challenge for patients.  And there are a range of consequences from a setback in health to a life-threatening emergency.

“The greatest predictor of whether someone will take their medication is if they’ve done so in the past,” says medication expert Dr. Gwen Egloff, a clinical ambulatory care pharmacist at Summit Medical Group.  “If a patient is struggling to take their medication, we work with them to find out why so that we can help them stick to their regimen.”

According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC), patients do not take their medication as prescribed half the time. This can lead to increased costs to the patient, unnecessary hospitalization and emergency room visits. (1) 

If the stakes are this high, why don’t patients take their meds?  The reasons vary from patient to patient, according to Dr. Egloff, and include:

  • Forgetting to take medication.
  • The high cost of brand-name medications.
  • Having to take multiple medications multiple times per day.
  • Frequent trips to the pharmacy.
  • Not wanting to take medications
  • Fear of side effects

Preventative Medications

Taking a medication to prevent a serious health condition can be an adherence challenge.  Why?

“Many patients taking preventative medications don’t actually feel sick.  For example, patients taking medication used to lower blood pressure don’t feel the outcome directly and may not believe it has a benefit,” Dr. Egloff explained.

Another condition that frequently poses a challenge to adherence is diabetes.  Taking insulin has to be timed carefully with meals, and there are also other medications in which timing is key.

“Timing can be very important,” Dr. Egloff says. “For example, certain statins, medications to lower cholesterol,  need to be taken at bedtime.  People with thyroid disease have to take their medication on an empty stomach in the morning before eating breakfast or drinking their first cup of coffee. Waiting to drink that first cup of coffee can be a deterrent.”

She also warns that skipping even a single dose of some medications can immediately impact patients.  These include not only insulin, but also some blood thinners where a missed dose greatly increases the risk of a blood clot.

Tips for Managing Medications

Dr. Egloff offers the following tips for taking medication properly:

  • Make sure to fill your prescriptions on time.  Don’t wait until running out of medication to get a refill.
  • Ask your doctor for a 90-day prescription so you can refill less frequently.
  • Use a pill box to organize medications for the week.
  • Try an app to help manage medications.  The mymeds app, for example, send reminders and helps track when patients take their medication.  It also allows patients to export adherence onto an Excel spreadsheet and share with pharmacists, doctors and caregivers.  This helps coordinate care.
  • Ask your doctor to explain the medication to you in person and keep an up-to-date medication list to share with all providers.
  • Ask your doctor to prescribe generic alternatives when possible. Generics are just as effective as their brand counterparts, but cost much less.  
  • If you are managing multiple medications, your doctor may be able to prescribe a combination product that contains two or more medications in one convenient pill.  

“Many patients find that something as simple as a pillbox can really help organize their medication,” Dr. Egloff said. “So can placement in the home.  One patient gave me a great tip: They keep their morning meds pill box downstairs in the kitchen and their evening meds pill box upstairs in the bedroom.”

Medication education

Dr. Egloff explains that sometimes patients just don’t feel like taking their meds. She advises that patients take advantage of education programs, which can explain exactly what medication is and why patients should take it. 

This winter, Dr. Egloff will be giving a lecture with Dr. Laura Balsamini, Director of Pharmacy Services, called “Managing Medication Mayhem” at Summit Medical Group.  You can register by phone by calling 908-277-8889.

And be sure to tune into a special SMG podcast about medication adherence on SMG Radio.

Sources:

1. Marie, Brown T., MD. "Medication Adherence - STEPS Forward." Centers for Disease Control, 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 04 Aug. 2016.

2. Interview with Dr. Gwen Egloff, PharmD, SMG expert in pharmacotherapy on Aug 5, 2016. 

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