May 06, 2016

Stick to the Script!

There’s an old saying that goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” That’s a great prescription for good health - if only it were so simple. Unfortunately, illness can strike even the most health-conscious people and, when it does, more potent medicines are needed.

Last year, alone, it was reported that more than 4.65 billion prescriptions, also called scripts, were filled at retail pharmacies in the U.S., more than 65 million of them in Wisconsin. Those vast numbers don’t include the millions more prescriptions filled by mail and other services; nor do they include the countless number of scripts written by doctors that patients never filled.

Faithfully taking the medications a doctor prescribes is a vital key to a patient’s recovery, but, when doctors’ orders are not followed, recovery may not happen quickly, or at all, and costs for future care can rise, as well.

Research has shown that approximately 50% of patients prescribed medications for chronic illness don’t take their medicine in the manner prescribed. In patients hospitalized for acute heart attacks, one study found that nearly a quarter of them had not filled their prescriptions for medication a full week after they had left the hospital. Moreover, more than a third of cardiac patients who did fill their scripts stopped taking at least one medicine within the first month and 12% dropped all of them.

There are many reasons why patients don’t follow their treatment plan when it comes to taking medicine. Having complicated schedules for taking different pills at different times is one factor. Misunderstanding or not believing in a recommended treatment are others. The cost of medications can be a deterrent, as can the belief that, once you feel better, you can stop taking your medicine. With a bacterial infection, like strep throat, for example, patients should take an antibiotic for the full length of time prescribed, even if they feel better after the first couple of days. Failure to follow instructions can result in a recurrence of the infection.

Sticking to a prescribed treatment plan, often called “medication adherence,” requires a strong, trusting relationship between doctors and patients. Doctors should be certain that patients understand why and how a drug is prescribed and what effects, positive and negative, it should produce. Patients should be honest with doctors about the reason or reasons they’re not taking a drug as prescribed. If the regime is too complex, a doctor might be able to simplify it. If the price is too high, doctors and clinics can look for ways to lower the cost, by substituting a generic drug, perhaps, or identifying public or private assistance plans.

Often, a family member or friend can help a patient stay on track with a medication schedule, as can pre-set phone alarms, written reminders, and pills boxes specially marked by day and time. When possible, make it routine to take pills with another regular activity, like brushing your teeth, when you wake up and when you go to bed.

Dr. C. Everett Koop, a former U.S. Surgeon General, once said, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.” The Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO) believes that sticking to the script works best when patients play an active role in their own health care decisions. To learn more about how to build a strong partner relationship with your doctor, visit WHIO’s consumer information website,