If you go rogue when assembling, say, a swing set, you’re putting your children at risk. Skip a step that adds a vital support structure, or fasten the wrong piece in the wrong place, and everything could collapse at the worst time.
Yet millions treat their medications precisely that way, regarding doctors’ prescribed instructions as mere suggestions rather than critical steps that build proper treatments for serious health conditions.
It’s the medical equivalent of assembling a wobbly swing set.
“The best way to ensure your medication is doing its intended job is to take it precisely as your doctor prescribes,” said Melissa Leedock, Capital BlueCross senior director of pharmacy and clinical services. “When you stop taking your prescription as specifically directed, either by changing the frequency or altering the dosage on your own, you are not only lessening or eliminating the medicine’s effectiveness, but you risk making your condition even worse.”
Yet Americans fail to take their medication as prescribed a full half of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That rate holds for those with chronic conditions worldwide: 50% fail to follow their doctor’s instructions, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the CDC, 20% to 30% of new prescriptions are never even filled, and the majority of patients who are prescribed medication for chronic diseases either take less medication than prescribed, or stop the medication after six months.
All those numbers translate to terribly high costs, in terms of both health and dollars.
Failure to properly follow prescriptions, says the CDC, causes 125,000 deaths in the U.S. annually. And according to WHO, medication non-adherence carries a $100 billion annual price tag worldwide.
It can also trigger other turmoil for employers: sicker or absent employees who are less productive, a drop in work quality, and potential overtime expenses when projects fall behind or deadlines are missed.
People don’t adhere to prescribed medications for many reasons. Among them: cost; trouble understanding the directions; confusion due to multiple medications with different regimens; dislike of unpleasant side effects; and the perception that the medication isn’t working.
Employers can help primarily by educating staff – via emails, promotional campaigns, information sessions, and seminars – about the importance of taking their prescriptions as directed, and by offering health insurance that helps them do so.
Capital BlueCross does its part. The health insurer:
- Works with health systems whose pharmacists work alongside doctors and clinicians to help ensure members take their medication as directed.
- Provides – to employer-group, individual, and CHIP members – access to a medication-use review service that identifies potential misuse and abuse. This closes gaps in care, improves adherence, and stops unsafe medication use.
- Notifies certain members who are underusing their medication, reminding them about proper adherence.
- Gives its Medicare members, who enjoy the same services offered to individual and employee-group members, access to the pilot Prescription Drug Senior Savings Program, which offers the lowest cost share in Capital BlueCross’ 21-county service region at $5 per 30-day supply. This helps remove cost barriers and encourages members to take their medications as prescribed.
“Taking your medication as directed by your doctor is the best way to ensure it’s doing what it’s meant to do: helping to contain or improve your medical condition,” Leedock said. “If you don’t do that, you’re rolling the dice on your health, and that’s a bad bet.”