Keys to consistently taking your medication

Medication adherence (taking one’s medication as the doctor has prescribed) is impacted by several KEY FACTORS. These include understanding the purpose of the medication, motivation, health literacy, cost, convenience or access,complexity of the medication regimen, side effects, and forgetfulness.  By tackling each of these factors systematically, medication adherence can be improved.

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Understanding the medication’s purpose is key

I’ve found over the years (and studies support this) that often times people have no idea what the purpose of their prescribed medications are. This problem is made worse by prescribers and pharmacists being more pressed for time and having less time to spend with each patient.

Levels of understanding range and a person may know:

  • That a medication is “for their heart”
  • The class of medication it is; for example, a beta-blocker
  • It’s to be taken “as needed”
  • Only that the doctor told them to take it

The less a person understands about their medication, the greater the risk of dangerous consequences.

For example:

  • The names of medications may be so similar that they’re mistaken; Ex: omeprazole (for stomach acid) vs. olmesartan (for blood pressure). I’ve seen patients stop taking the olmesartan because they thought it was interchangeable for the omeprazole and it was much more expensive.
  • The physical appearance of medications may be so similar that the person accidentally exchanges them. This is especially common when a pill organizer is being used or if pills are dumped from one bottle into another. It’s also a problem for people with low health literacy.
  • If the person is not counseled on how the medication works, they may stop taking it if it has an unpleasant side effect. Ex: most blood pressure medications have the risk of making you feel tired and/or dizzy for the first week or two. This is a normal side effect that usually goes away once your body becomes used to the new lower (and safer!) blood pressure.

Have an honest conversation with your healthcare provider

Historically, asking your doctor about your medications was not considered culturally acceptable. The doctor was always right and you were just supposed to follow directions. However, now we know that understanding the purpose, use, and possible side effects of your medications will help you to take your medications more safely and as prescribed. So asking questions of your doctor and your pharmacist is welcomed and encouraged. If privacy is a concern, or it’s difficult for you to get to the office or pharmacy, scheduling a telehealth video chat consultation is now an option!

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Discuss barriers to taking your medications

Once you leave the office, managing your health and wellness is entirely your responsibility. Your healthcare provider isn’t going to be there every day, looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re following doctor’s orders.  By letting your healthcare team know what’s important to you, you can work together to make a plan that works for you.  If you’ve experienced a side effect that keeps you from taking your medication, if your medication is too expensive, if you have limited transportation, or if you can’t remember to take all 16 of your pills, share this information with your healthcare provider. That way you can talk about alternative treatments, stop unnecessary medications, and work on reasonable solutions.  Remember: Your healthcare team is on your side, and wants you to achieve your health and wellness goals!

Identify tools to help you stay adherent

If your primary difficulty is remembering to take your medications, there are a variety of tools available to help with medication adherence:

  1. Smart phone apps that send you medication reminders
  2. Automatic refill services from the pharmacy (and often free delivery if you ask)
  3. Reminder phone calls, text messages, or emails from pay-for services, or sometimes provided by insurers
  4. Pill organizers
  5. e-Caps for your bottles that have alarms to notify you when to take a medication
  6. The calendar app on your smart phone can also be programmed to remind you to take your medications

Staying adherent to your prescribed medications can be challenging and there are many barriers to proper, consistent use. However, by focusing on your personal health and wellness goals, having open and honest conversations with your healthcare team, and developing strategies to help you remember your medication, you’ll increase your success and ultimately improve your overall health.

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At RxLive, our goal is to help people get healthy and stay well. Our clinical pharmacist telehealth services enable us to partner with patients and their families to achieve better health and outcomes.

If you’d like to talk to a pharmacist now, schedule a time that works for you here →

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If you found this helpful, you may want to check out the following:

Pharmacy Costs and Open Enrollment: What to Consider When Picking a Plan
The Top 3 Medication Problems in the Elderly

Author avatar
Kristen Engelen, PharmD
Kristen Engelen, PharmD, is the chief pharmacy officer of RxLive and a certified consultant pharmacist; she has over a decade of experience in retail pharmacy settings. Kristen became an RxLive co-founder because of her passion for geriatric pharmacy, with a focus on the intersection of pharmacy and aging.