How do I ensure I take my medication correctly?

Taking medications as directed, also called “medication adherence”, is important to staying healthy, especially if you have a long-term health problem like asthma or diabetes. You have a better chance of a healthier future when you take your medications as directed.

According to the Script Your Future Campaign, many people never fill their prescriptions, or they may never pick up their filled prescriptions from the pharmacy. Other people bring their medication home, but don’t follow their healthcare provider’s instructions – they might skip doses or stop taking the medication, take more than instructed, or may take their medication at the wrong time of day.

There are many reasons why people stop taking their medication – they feel better and think they don’t need the medication any more, have side effects such as weight gain, dry mouth, dizziness, etc., have trouble paying for their medication, or they don’t refill their prescription.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that poor medication adherence can interfere with the medication’s ability to treat many diseases, which in turn can lead to serious complications and lower quality of life. The FDA also recommends taking the following steps when your provider prescribes a medication:

  • Communicate with your healthcare provider. Talk with your provider if the side effects from your medication are bothering you. They may be able to help you lessen the problem by switching you to a different medication or adjusting the timing of your dose.
  • Make sure you understand why you are taking a medication and what happens if you don’t take your medication. If you are taking a medication for a chronic condition, ask how the medication can help you manage your condition. When you don’t take medication as prescribed, you run the risk of not receiving the medication’s maximum health benefits. In fact, health outcomes improve when medication is taken as directed. Not taking your medication as directed can also lead to other health problems, especially if you already have chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or high blood pressure.
  • Make sure you understand how long to take the medication. Some questions to ask when you’re prescribed a new medication are:
    • Is it necessary to take all the medication, or can I stop taking this medication once I feel better?
    • Will I need to get a refill, or can I stop treatment when the bottle is empty and the medication is all gone?
  • Tell your healthcare provider if paying for prescription drugs is a problem. Your provider may be able to prescribe a generic medication or offer other suggestions to offset the cost of a drug. Generic drugs use the same active ingredients and are shown to work the same way in the body, but they can cost 30% to 80% less than their brand name counterparts. Generics also have the same risks and benefits. See also How can I get help if I can’t afford my prescription? for additional ways to save money on prescription drugs.
  • Set daily routines to take medication. Taking medication as part of your daily routine can increase the chance of medication adherence. It can be helpful to connect taking the medication with normal, daily activities such as eating meals or going to bed. You can also keep backup supplies of your medication at your workplace or in your briefcase or purse. If you keep medications in your briefcase or purse, however, it is important to keep them out of the reach of children as they can be harmful to them.
  • Keep medications where you’ll notice them. For a medication that should be taken with food, place that medication on the dinner table or wherever you eat on a regular basis. However, be sure to keep your medications out of the reach of children as they can be harmful to them.
  • Use daily dosing containers. These are available at most pharmacies and allow you to keep medications in compartments that are labeled with the days of the week and various dosage frequencies.
  • Keep a written or computerized schedule. A written schedule can cover all the medications you take, how often you take them, and any special directions associated with the medication. There are a number of devices that have been designed to help patients adhere to a prescribed medication schedule. These include medication reminder texts, pagers, and wristwatches, automatic pill dispensers, and even voice-command medication managers. Ask your pharmacist for suggestions as to which particular devices may be helpful for you. For a helpful wallet card to list all of your medications, go to Script Your Future.

See also How can I get help if I can’t afford my prescription? for additional ways to save money on prescription drugs. For more tools to help you take your medications as directed, be sure to talk with your provider or pharmacist about the drugs you take or are about to start taking.