Medication Adherence - Taking Your Meds as Directed

Updated:Jul 22,2013

Bottles of MedicationIt is estimated that three out of four Americans do not take their medication as directed.

Taking medication correctly may seem like a simple or personal matter, but non-adherence (or not taking medication as directed) is a complicated and common problem. People do not realize the real damage or consequences of non-adherence. When patients with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease do not take medication as directed, the repercussions can be severe. For instance, not keeping blood pressure in check can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

In sum, poor medication adherence takes the lives of 125,000 Americans annually, and costs the health care system nearly $300 billion a year in additional doctor visits, emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

There are many reasons why people are not able to take their medication as directed.

  • They may forget.
  • They may not be convinced of the medication’s effectiveness or be unsure that it is working.
  • They may fear the side effects or have difficulty taking the medication (especially with injections or inhalers).
  • And we all know that the rising cost of prescription medications is a barrier for many. 

Some may face a combination of these reasons for not taking their medications. One person may face different barriers at different times as he or she manages his or her condition. Whatever the reason,  you could miss out on potential benefits, quality of life improvements, and could lose protection against future illness or serious health complications.

Taking your medication as directed is a decision YOU make most of the time.
It gives you the best opportunity to manage your chronic condition and maintain the best possible health for yourself. Think about what a difference being adherent might  make in your life—do you want to attend your grandchild’s baseball game or walk your daughter down the aisle or lower your blood pressure by 20 percent? Whatever your goal may be, make it yours and use it as a motivator to manage your medications and your health.

One of the best ways to meet your goal is to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you are taking. 

Your trusted health care professional can provide you with tips on how to manage your medications, including what to do if you miss a dose, if you can take them with other medications or vitamins, foods to avoid, and any possible side effects and interactions.

Establishing a strong relationship with your doctor or pharmacist can create an open environment where you feel comfortable asking questions and expressing concerns about a medication. Having a conversation with your doctor about how your medication impacts your chronic condition is crucial to managing your condition and taking back your health.

If you don’t like what one doctor or pharmacist is saying about taking a medication, get a second opinion from a different healthcare professional. Where you get your advice is also a decision you make.  Check with your health insurance provider if they cover second opinions.  Many health insurance providers will cover the cost of the visit.

If you are on government-funded health programs, ask the staff of those facilities what options you have to get a second opinion. Are there other facilities in the area that allow you to speak to another healthcare professional before you make any healthcare decisions? Finding a healthcare professional that you trust may take some time and effort, but it is your right and your decision.     

While talking to your doctor or pharmacist can help you understand the need to take your medication, additional resources may be needed to help you keep track of your medications.  Text message reminders, medication lists, and videos on how to administer medications are some examples of ways to provide extra support. Heart360 is an online health tracking tool from the American Heart Association that helps track all of the medicines you are taking and you can even set up text reminders to help keep you adherent.

Remember, if you don’t take your medication as directed, you could be  putting your present and future health at risk.

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