Taking Your Medications

Taking Your Medications

Why Taking Your Meds as Prescribed is Important

Not taking your medicine as prescribed can harm your health. Here’s how and why you need to take it the right way.

You’re taking medications for diabetes, heart disease or an infection — or maybe you’re not taking them. When you don’t take your drugs as prescribed, doctors call it “poor medication compliance” or “non-adherence.” This health snafu can be costly to your pocketbook — and your health.

What is medication compliance?

Medication adherence or compliance means taking medicine exactly as your doctor prescribes. That means taking the medicine in the right amounts, at the right times and for as long as your doctor says.
Fifty percent of people with chronic illness don’t take their medications as prescribed. People with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, and heart disease are less likely to take their medicine correctly than those with acute illnesses, such as an infection, probably because people with chronic diseases often need to take many medicines long-term. It makes sense: The more medicines you take, and the longer you take them, the more chances you have to use them incorrectly at some point.
Sometimes, patients are noncompliant because they’re hoping to save money or because they feel the drug isn’t working. In other cases, it’s because their doctors didn’t communicate the benefits of the medication well or prescribed a complicated drug regimen that was hard to follow.

What’s the big deal?

Medicine only works when it’s taken as directed. Missing doses, taking medicines at the wrong time, or even stopping medications altogether is especially risky for people with chronic disease.
Also, trying to save money by stopping a medication or taking less than prescribed can lead to health problems — which may turn into more medical bills down the road.

Tips to stay on track

Ready to get back on the bandwagon with your medication — or to make sure you keep taking them as directed? Talk to your doctor for tips on staying compliant, and also try these tips for certain situations:
I’m not taking my medications as prescribed because the drug regimen is confusing.
  • 1. Ask your family or friends to go with you to the doctor and take notes about your medication and treatment plans.
  • 2. Ask your pharmacist to use large-print labels on your medicine containers.
  • 3. You may want to use pillboxes that organize your medications by day and time that you should take them.
  • 4. You may want to use calendars that you check off when you take the medication.
  • 5. Or you may want to try products that fit on top of medicine bottles. Ask your pharmacist for information.
I’m not taking my medications as prescribed because I keep forgetting to take them.
  • 1. Keep a checklist of all the medications — prescription and over-the-counter — that you take. Include how much you take, when you take it and whether you need to take it with food. Keep one copy on your refrigerator door and one in your wallet.
  • 2. Put notes around the house to remind yourself to take your medicines each day.
  • 3. Try to set a routine for taking your medication and follow it.
  • 4. Ask your family and friends to call you regularly to take your medication as prescribed.
I’m not taking my medications as prescribed because the medication doesn’t seem to be working.
  • 1. Don’t stop taking the medicine! Ask your doctor why the drug doesn’t seem to be effective.
I’m not taking my medications as prescribed because I’ve run out.
  • 1. Be sure get your prescriptions refilled early so you won’t run out. Check the expiration dates and properly dispose of the medicines that are old.

A final note: Never stop taking a medication without first talking to your doctor, even if you feel better. If you take the wrong dose of medicine or miss a dose, call your doctor for instructions. If you think the medication is causing you problems, call your doctor. People can have a life-threating allergic reaction to a medication, though this is very rare. If this happens, call 911. Your wellness depends on taking your medications on time and as prescribed. Try these strategies to help you stay on track — and stay healthy.

By Linda Formichelli, Contributing Writer.


  • 1. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Medication adherence interventions: Comparative effectiveness. Accessed: 10/10/2014
  • 2. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Your medicine: Be smart. be safe. Accessed: 10/10/2014
  • 3. National Institutes of Health. Senior Health. Taking medicines safely. Accessed: 10/10/2014
  • 4. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. Safe use of medicines. Accessed: 10/10/2014

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