New National Crisis: People Who Forget To Do Drugs

By Dirk Hanson 05/30/11

Patients who don't take their prescribed meds cost Americans over 250 billion in needless hospitalizations and emergency rooms visits.

Follow the rules.
Photo via dreamyhealthl

Patient noncompliance, as it’s known in the medical profession—or not taking your pills, as it’s known in the real world—may cost Americans more than $250 billion in needless hospitalizations and emergency rooms visits, says a joint report from CVS Caremark, Harvard, and Brigham and Womens’s Hospital.

Doctors have complained for years about noncompliance—what many term the most common problem in medicine. “Drugs don’t work if you don’t take them,” Bob Nease, chief scientist at Express Scripts, told USA Today.  “And people often don’t take them the way they’re supposed to.” But why don’t they? Consumer advocates blame doctors for not explaining what medications are for and what side effects patients might expect. Nor do they adequately explain what might happen if the patient doesn't take the medications. For their part, pharmacists often maintain that people forget to refill their prescriptions, forget to take their pills, feel they don’t need them, or decide they are too expensive, as USA Today explains. And in many if not most of these cases, consumers don’t even bother to inform their prescribing physicians when they have arbitrarily discontinued their meds. Perhaps the most astonishing finding in the study is that researchers say “more than half of people who believe they take their medications properly are not.”

So there is plenty of blame to go around. The CVS study estimated that if 35% of 100,000 patients don’t take their medictions as directed, “there will be 16 heart attacks, five strokes and seven deaths.” A bill before Congress would allow Medicare reimbursements for patients willing to have therapists help manage their medication schedules—a procedure known as medications management therapy. Another approach to alleviating the problem is automatic mail order enrollment. This approach theoretically cuts down on waste and improves adherence rates, if the mail order prescription industry is to be believed. For consumers, the message is obvous—no matter what you think of Big Pharma, take your medication as directed, and if you decide to play doctor and toss out your pills, let your real doctor know.

Here are some tips from dreamyhealth blog to help you remember your meds:

--Combine your pill-taking with a daily activity, like brushing your teeth.
--Use alarm clocks on cell phones and computers.
--Keep your meds in an obvious place. Keep them in plain sight on the counter if you need to take them with meals, for example.
--Use a medication diary, available at drugstores and medical web sites.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]