Undesirable Side Effects, Poor Education Reasons Many Stop Taking Medication

Studies show medication non-adherence can lead to higher health care costs, death

Dulan HSDAYTON, Ohio (September 15, 2014) – Expense, undesirable side effects, and lack of education are reasons many people may choose to stop taking the maintenance medications their physician prescribes. However, this isn’t a choice many individuals can afford to make, according Michael Dulan, MD, a Lebanon family physician.

“Getting patients to stick with a set medication regimen is a significant issue in our society today not only with chronic diseases, but also with acute illnesses,” said Dr. Dulan with Dulan and Moore Dulan Family Wellness Center. “A lot of individuals do not realize the damage that a lack of medication adherence can have on their bodies. Many think that if they miss taking a pill and their blood pressure or blood sugar is too high, for example, it is not that big of an issue. But it has a cumulative effect on the body.”

What Dr. Dulan sees in his exam rooms is echoed across the country. Medication adherence is a major component in America’s fight against ever-increasing cases of chronic diseases and the nation’s efforts to keep health care costs at a minimum. It’s also the center of many national studies and reports, the results of which can be quite surprising.

A study released in the Journal of General Internal Medicine Off Site Icon found that nearly 30 percent of commercially-insured patients failed to fill a new prescription and that new prescriptions for chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol were not filled up to 22 percent of the time. Such behaviors have consequences beyond the individual. A patient’s unwillingness to comply with and take medication prescribed for chronic illnesses is estimated to cost the health care industry up to $300 billion annually, including costs from avoidable hospitalizations, nursing home admissions and premature deaths, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Dulan said patients often choose not to take medication for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason he sees is the cost of the prescription.

“When a medication is significantly expensive, patients may try to stretch the amount they have over a longer period of time,” he said. “They may do this by taking a pill every other day rather than daily or by cutting pills in half. It’s important for patients to know they can work with their doctor to find a medication regimen that they can afford.” Dr. Dulan said pharmaceutical companies often offer savings cards that will bring the co-pay of a medication down to a reasonable amount. Patients may also have the option of switching to a generic brand over a brand name.

Patients sometimes stop taking medication because they don’t like the way the medication makes them feel. Common side effects may include sleepiness, dry mouth, or abdominal pain. Many of these side effects cease after a week of taking the medication, but many patients simply choose to stop taking it after the first dose, Dr. Dulan said.

A false perception of improved health or belief that a chronic condition is cured can lead patients to think they no longer need to take their medicine, Dr. Dulan said.

“There is a pretty common misconception that once medication and lifestyle modifications are started, the chronic disease process is healed,” Dr. Dulan said. “Reaching your goal is great, but you need to understand that the disease process is still present. Not continuing to take your medication could cause organ damage, render the medication ineffective, increase cost of care, and add more stress to an individual’s life.”

The World Health Organization Off Site Icon (WHO) estimates the average nonadherence rate is 50 percent among those with chronic diseases. Unfortunately, nonadherence results from many causes and no easy solutions exist. However, the WHO said the first step to reversing this trend is for physicians and patients to work together. Dr. Dulan said it is important for patients to know they have options – whether a medication is too expensive or has certain side effects – and that a physician is there to help.

For more information about the importance of medication adherence or to find a Premier HealthNet doctor visit: http://www.premierhealthnet.com/doctor.

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