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Ask A Pharmacist... Why must I take medications exactly as prescribed?

October 21, 2016 | By Lisa Schwenk
Published in: Question Answer, Pharmacy

Inside the pharmacy

Pharmacist Nancy Heidel
Nancy Heidel, RPh

Answer provided by Nancy Heidel, RPh, a pharmacist at Augusta Health’s pharmacy. She has worked as a community pharmacist in Augusta County for 25 years, and has Bachelor of Science degrees in Pharmacy and Animal Science from the University of Kentucky.

October is National Pharmacists Month, a time to recognize pharmacists for the vital contributions they make to the healthcare team as medication experts, and National ‘Talk About Your Medicines’ Month, highlighting the important role of communication between patients and all healthcare providers plays in promoting safe, effective and appropriate use of medications.

Successfully taking your medications as prescribed will make the efforts of going to the doctor, going to the pharmacy and paying for these services worthwhile. Taken correctly, antibiotics can cure an infection, blood pressure medications can prevent a stroke or heart attack, and diabetic medications can prevent damage to kidneys, nerves and eyes.

Taking medications correctly is often referred to as "medication adherence." To be adherent a patient must take the correct medication in the correct dose, at the correct times, for the correct duration. This can be challenging and even discouraging to some people. Pharmacists are available to help increase medication adherence since we are excellent sources of information, education and assistance.

Patients are non-adherent for many reasons. The schedule for taking medications may be too complicated, they may have trouble paying for medications, or they may experience uncomfortable side effects. The condition being treated may not present with symptoms that are immediately bothersome, so the need to treat may not seem important. For example the early stages of type two diabetes can have very little noticeable symptoms, but the elevated blood sugar is slowly causing serious harm.

The risks of not taking medications as prescribed include worsening of health conditions, hospitalization, and increased health care costs. In the U.S. the cost of medication non-adherence exceeds $100 billion annually. (Pharmacist's Letter, Med Adherence, 2015)

Remember, medications don't work unless the patient takes them!