A Hard Pill to Swallow

With medical advances and an improving public understanding of health issues, more than ever patients are playing a larger role in their own health care. According to Dr. Colleen Schmitt, Galen Medical Group gastroenterologist and Memorial Research Center medical director, “Quality health care is a partnership between the patient and the provider.”

Taking Responsibility for Proper Medication Use

By Jessica Capets Chevalier

Never is this tenet truer than when it comes to taking medications. In the seclusion of the home, patients have total responsibility for an integral portion of their health care, and one of the biggest areas for patient participation is taking medications as they are prescribed.

As important as it is, a large number of patients fail to take their medications as directed. Often the results of this misuse are benign, but sometimes they can be serious or even life-changing – resulting in an unplanned pregnancy, illness, hospitalization or even death. Why then do so many competent individuals refrain from properly taking the medications that ensure a better quality of life? And what can you do to streamline the medication process for yourself and your family?

According to studies through Blue Cross Blue Shield, 30 percent to 50 percent of all people with chronic diseases fail to take their medicines as prescribed. Of course, the reasons for this failure vary by individual and situation, but, overall, there are two distinct groups of problem patients: those who forget to take their medicines – or simply take them carelessly – and those who cease taking their medications purposefully. These two groups have distinctly different motivations and, therefore, significantly varied dilemmas.

Those who fail to take their medications as a result of carelessness or forgetfulness generally have an “it won’t happen to me” mentality. According to Dr. Schmitt, “One of the truisms for humans is ‘out of sight; out of mind.’ If something isn’t bothering you, you may not be very vigilant in taking the medications.” However, these forgetful patients overlook the big picture of medicine and health: all results are not witnessed with the human eye or even felt conspicuously within the body. Dr. Schmitt notes that when left unmedicated, afflictions like diabetes and heart disease can manifest virtually no symptoms until irreversible damage is done.

Those who ignore their medications on purpose do so for a variety of reasons. Dr. Schmitt reports that local patients most frequently confess to discontinuing their medicines in an effort to save money or because of information they have read on the Internet regarding potential side effects. Others are suspicious of their medications, disbelieving that they will help in the way in which they are intended. And some suffer from a lack of knowledge regarding how they are supposed to take the medication.

One example, according to Brad Standefer, D.Ph., owner and pharmacist at Access Family Pharmacy, is patients who cease their antibiotics when they feel better, rather than when the prescribed allowance is used up. In these instances, with only a portion of the bacteria eliminated, the body may build up a resistance to the medication, making the infection more difficult to treat.

For all of these individuals, a true understanding of what a medication is for, how it works, and the dangers of its misuse are central to fulfilling their role in their own health care. There are a multitude of practical steps to gaining this knowledge and firmly establishing a productive path toward standardizing medication use. The steps are not difficult, but they do necessitate that each individual take their health care into their own hands, ceding the notion that “it’s the doctor’s job” to control a patient’s care.

Ask Questions & Take Notes.

Don’t leave your doctor’s office or a hospital stay without a good understanding of why the doctor is prescribing each medication and how it is to be used. Take specific notes regarding the name of the medication, the amount and times it is to be taken, and refer back to these notes any time you have concerns about your prescriptions. Don’t be afraid to ask a multitude of questions, especially regarding potential side effects that are of concern to you.

Carry Your Medication Bottles to Visits.

If you take a large number of medications or have a variety of prescribers, bring your medication bottles – including over-the-counter types – to important doctor’s visits or hospital stays. With a full view of your personal pharmacy, doctors will have more clarity in avoiding hazardous drug interactions. It is a wise idea to have a full check of your medications at least once annually and to have a complete list of your medications on hand at all times.

Discuss Lingering Concerns.

Communication is key, according to Dr. Schmitt. Rather than going to the Internet with your fears or questions, contact your prescriber directly. And don’t make any crucial decisions regarding ceasing or increasing medications without your physician’s consent.

Create a System.

If a chart (detailing medication amounts and application times) or an alarm is necessary to keep you on the medicinal straight and narrow, utilize them. For those with an abundance of medications, Dr. Standefer recommends a daily pill planner for organization. Otherwise, opt for accountability; ask a partner, family member, or friend to check with you frequently regarding your consistency.

Know Your Pills.

Being able to identify each of your medications visually is an important step in avoiding mess-ups. It is also imperative to keep each medicine in its original bottle until transporting them to a daily pill planner, and to perform a double-check of each label frequently to make sure that you’re in compliance.

Utilize Your Pharmacist.

Before you leave the pharmacy, make certain that you have the correct prescriptions in the correct dosages. Additionally, check each label to ensure that the method of taking the medicine is in line with what the doctor outlined. If you have any remaining questions regarding the medications, discuss them with the pharmacist before you head home. And don’t worry that your questions will monopolize your pharmacist’s time, says Dr. Standefer. “As pharmacists, we’re the most accessible health care professionals,” he says. “You don’t walk in the door and talk to your doctor, but you can to your pharmacist. If patients don’t have that relationship with their pharmacist, they need to go somewhere else,” he says.

Elect a Representative.

If you are unable to manage your medications properly, it is important to elect a single representative to help you. Your representative should accompany you to doctor’s visits, act as your advocate regarding medical care, and assist you in your daily needs regarding consumption of your medications.

Though the mundane nature of taking medications naturally lends itself to apathy, it is imperative that patients view the process as a serious endeavor to achieving and maintaining wellness. Working in collaboration with medical providers, and educating yourself on proper treatments and options, will lead to better health. It will ensure that you are a more knowledgeable health care consumer capable of participating in your own well-being.

Jessica Capets Chevalier is a Chattanooga resident. She was raised in Western Pennsylvania and earned a BA in English at Geneva College and her MFA in Writing at Penn State University.

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