Just What the Doctor Ordered: Take Your Meds as Prescribed

It happens a lot: People stop taking their medication as prescribed — or don’t fill their prescriptions in the first place. Maybe it’s cost. Maybe it’s side effects. Maybe you feel better and don’t think you need the medicine anymore.

If you are not taking your medication at the time, dose and frequency prescribed, it’s called medication non-adherence. This can have a short-term and long-term impact on your health.

“A lot of individuals do not realize the damage that a lack of medication adherence can have on their bodies,” says Michael Dulan, MD, a family practitioner with Dulan and Moore Dulan Family Wellness Center in Lebanon, Ohio. “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.”

Dr. Dulan discusses reasons why people don’t adhere to their medication prescriptions.

Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What is medication non-adherence?

Medication non-adherence is when a physician or advance level provider prescribes a medication to a patient and, for a number of reasons, they, ah, do not keep up with the therapy. There are a number of reasons why patients have medication non-adherence. Sometimes it can be cost, so some medications can be very expensive, so patients have a high out of pocket deductible. And because of that, they don’t want to tell the provider they can’t afford the medicines, so they just don’t take the medications. Ah, sometimes it can be side effects, can cause medication non-adherence, ah so people take medicines and they feel bad, ah so they just stop taking the medications. Sometimes they try and cut the dosage down on their, on their own. Um, we generally discourage these, if the patient has problems with medicines and they don’t take it, it’s best to go back to your provider and say, “The medicine is too expensive, I had some bad side effects from it, um, can we look at changing to a different treatment, ah, option.” And there are so many different medications that are available, that providers should be able to find an alternative for the patient.


People have a common misconception that when their symptoms go away, it’s all right to stop taking the medicine. There are often additional benefits, however, to staying the course with a prescription.

Before stopping any medication, talk with your doctor about what’s best for you. Some drugs may have a harmful effect if you stop taking them abruptly. Others may not have the long-term success you want if you don’t complete the prescription.

If a medication has a strong side effect or you have an allergic reaction, contact your doctor immediately. Most acute illnesses and chronic conditions have alternative medications you can try. If cost is an issue, your doctor can help work with you, the insurance company or drug companies to find a medication plan that works for you.

Costs and ConsequencesJust What the Doctor Ordered: Take Your Meds as Prescribed - In Content

If you stop taking medications for chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart failure, you can cause your condition to progress or get worse.

“There is a pretty common misconception that once medication and lifestyle modifications are started, the chronic disease process is healed,” Dr. Dulan says. “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 cost of not complying with a doctor’s medication prescription for a chronic disease is huge: $100 billion to $289 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart failure and other chronic diseases are not well-controlled, patients have more doctor visits, emergency visits, hospitalizations and even death.

According to the College of Preventive Medicine, for every 100 prescriptions written, 50 to 70 are filled by the pharmacy, 48 to 66 are picked up by the patient, 25 to 30 are taken properly, and only 15 to 20 are refilled.

If you stop taking medications for chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart failure, you can cause your condition to progress or get worse.

Only about half of Americans receiving treatment for high blood pressure adhere to their long-term therapy, says the CDC. Of people prescribed to take statins to lower blood cholesterol, 25 to 50 percent stop after one year.

Dr. Dulan further discusses consequences of stopping medications for chronic conditions.

Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What happens when there is a disruption in taking prescription medication for a chronic condition?

So when patients have chronic conditions and they stop taking their medicines, a number of things can happen. Um, one the underlying condition can progress and it can get worse. So in the case of diabetes or hypertension, let’s say, if the patient stops taking their medication, we can get damage to the eyes, get damage to the kidneys, we can get damage to the heart. And sometimes the damage the occurs is non reversible, once the individual stop, uh, taking those medications. So there can be some short term effects from stopping medications, people can feel, ah, bad from them. And there can be some long term damages that can cur, ah, which can end up in organ damage, for some people unfortunately, can end up in, ah, death.


It’s important to take prescription medications prescribed by your doctor as part of an overall strategy to keep you healthy and to control medical issues. Refilling prescriptions also is important for chronic issues. Make sure you get refills in advance and schedule routine appointments with your doctor to monitor your progress and make sure prescriptions are up to date.

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