Staying On Track With Your Prescriptions

Our Vice President of Pharmacy Affairs, Papatya Tankut, R.Ph., weighs in on the challenge of getting people to take their medicines as prescribed and shares some tips to help patients remain adherent to their medication.

Medication non-adherence – when people don’t take their medications as prescribed – is a growing public health challenge in the U.S., taking tens of thousands of lives and costing the health care system nearly $300 billion each year. But taking medications as prescribed can be difficult, especially if someone has multiple prescriptions for a chronic condition. In fact, there are many reasons why people don’t adhere: Some simply forget, others are put off by the cost of their medications, and many just don’t understand how much to take or when to take it.

However, there is a lot we can do to improve patient outcomes and reduce the pressure on our already strained health care system. Here are some simple tips for overcoming the most common obstacles to taking medications as prescribed so people can feel better, live healthier and help to avoid unnecessary costs to the health care system:

1) Create a routine.    

Many people store their medications in kitchen cabinets or someplace out of sight. The problem is that out of sight often means out of mind and people forget about taking their meds. One simple idea is to incorporate medications into a daily routine by storing them near something you use every day, like your bed, the coffee pot or your car keys. And, because some medicines have strict guidelines regarding their storage, if they have to be out of sight, put them in a place that you walk by or use daily.

2) Don’t let side effects deter you – talk to your pharmacist.

People often suffer unpleasant side effects from medicines. That’s no secret. But some of us respond to the insomnia, rashes or headaches simply by quitting. It’s one reason that nearly 50 percent of the people taking medication for a chronic condition stop within a year – with the highest drop-off occurring within the first month. This puts many people on a dangerous path.

The answer is not to quit, but to seek help from a professional. Finding the right medications isn’t always easy and managing side effects can be hard. The more than 26,000 pharmacists at CVS Pharmacy can work with your medical team to suggest ways to manage your side effects, uncover other potential causes for the discomfort (e.g., interaction with other prescription or over-the-counter medications), or suggest alternate, effective therapies that may have fewer side effects. 

In fact, studies show that people pay attention to pharmacists’ advice, and that those who are counseled by their pharmacist – either in-person or via phone – are two to three times more likely to stay on their medicine.

3) Enlist the support of a friend or loved one.

For people taking multiple medicines throughout the day, it can become almost like a job. There are schedules to follow, refills to order and trips to the pharmacy to pick up medications. This can be very confusing and time-consuming. The result, all too often, is that they skip doses or quit altogether.

What many people need is an “accountability partner.” It could be a friend or loved one to help keep track of medications and perhaps nudge them to take their medication as prescribed. Being an accountability partner is a great way to shoulder a bit of a loved one’s burden, while helping to keep them healthier – and out of the hospital.

4) Forgetful? Help yourself remember.

Remembering to take time out of a busy day for medication can be very difficult, especially for people who take multiple medicines or those who those who have strict guidelines regarding timing of administration. One easy way to remember is to set an alarm to serve as a daily reminder to take your medications.

In addition, your CVS pharmacist can help set up automatic refills for ongoing prescriptions or can synchronize your prescriptions so they are all ready together for pick-up once a month. Depending on your health coverage, you may be eligible to have ongoing prescriptions mailed to your home. CVS/pharmacy staff will also send you text or email notifications when your medications are ready for pick-up. This way, re-filling the prescription is one less thing you have to remember.

5) Bring extra medication when traveling.

Travel breaks routines. That’s one of its charms – but it’s also a risk for people taking medications. People often pack too little of their prescription, or forget it altogether. This leads to emergencies. What’s worse, they’re far from their home support group of family, friends, pharmacists and doctors.

When traveling, you should always pack enough meds to allow for a few extra days. It’s also smart to carry an insurance card and the phone number of a pharmacy, if refills are needed. And since checked luggage doesn’t always arrive with the flight, it’s better to pack medicines in a carry-on bag.

6) Stay organized with the CVS/pharmacy mobile app.

Even those who keep up with their medications often find themselves facing nagging questions. Is it time to refill my meds? Are my refills ready? How much will my co-pay be?

With our CVS/pharmacy mobile app, customers can scan medications and order refills with a tap. And, users can manage all of their or their family members’ medications on the go. So far, we have 15 million customers receiving text alerts when prescriptions are ready to be picked up, and last year alone, delivered 165 million messages to help patients on their path to better health.