By Megan Baier
A new national campaign sponsored in part by the pharmaceutical industry is trying to raise awareness about the importance of taking medications exactly as prescribed by doctors.
Half of the 3.2 billion prescriptions dispensed in the U.S. every year are not taken properly , according to a study by the National Consumer’s League, leading to increased hospital visits, decreased quality of life for patients, and higher health care costs. Prescription non-adherence ranges from failing to fill prescriptions to reducing the dosage or frequency of a medication.
Script Your Future is a public awareness campaign focusing on patients with one of three chronic conditions: diabetes, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases. “While chronic disease cannot be cured, it can be controlled and the complications of the diseases can be prevented,” Dr. Glenna Trochet Sacramento County’s Public Health Officer said at the event.
Focus groups conducted by the NCL found the primary reasons patients did not follow the directions of their prescriptions were because they struggled managing multiple medications, saw no visible improvement in their condition, the cost of the medication was too high, or they experienced adverse side effects.
The NCL chose six communities nation wide to target for the next three years of their campaign based on the prevalence of chronic diseases in that area. At the campaign’s launch on Thursday Rebecca Burkholder, the NCL’s VP of Health Policy said, “Sacramento, you’re not as healthy as you should be.”
The NCL hopes an increased flow of information between patients and their medical personnel will minimize the number of patients who fail to take their medications as properly.
“The campaign will specifically target conversations between patients and their health care professionals, whether it’s a pharmacist, whether it’s a doctor, whether it’s a nurse practitioner,” Burkholder said, “so they understand the importance of taking their medication and the consequences of not.”
George Mitchell, a cardiovascular patient and heart health advocate, had 8-way by-pass heart surgery sixteen years ago, said, “There’s two people I rely on—the doctor. We have a dialogue. I ask questions. I want to know why I am taking this medication. What is this medication going to do? I do the same thing when I go to the pharmacist.”
With over 25 sponsors, ranging from health associations to pharmaceutical companies, and insurers, the NCL has been able to distribute information and increase awareness in a wide variety of groups. Burkholder explained the campaign is about “meeting consumers where they are.”
Beyond doctor’s offices and pharmacies the Script Your Future Campaign will reach out to senior centers, faith centers, as well as community health fairs, to disseminate information about adhering strictly to medications as they are prescribed.
Language barriers are especially problematic to medication adherence since confusion and lack of information about prescriptions are the primary reasons people do not take their medications correctly.
“We do have some of our tools on the website in Spanish. Not all of them, but we are working on it.” Burkholder said, “Especially in the Sacramento community, we want to explore translating the information into other languages.”
The Script Your Future Campaign attempts to give patients tools that suit their lifestyle and can make it easier for them to take their prescriptions correctly. Many patients who take multiple pills daily struggle to keep their medicine organized and often skip pills or accidentally take the wrong ones.
“You have heart disease the rest of your life,” said Mitchell, discussing his struggle to monitor different medications after his heart surgery. “It was very difficult after my procedure to take all these medications.”
Mitchell explains weekly pillboxes were the solution to his problems, “I know the ones in here are what I am suppose to take, not what I think I need to take.”
The NCL has more resources available online, from text reminders to medication cards, that document the medications a patient takes, why they take it, when they take it, and the dosage.
With chronic disease on the rise, it is becoming all the more important for patients to adhere precisely to their prescriptions, but many find it difficult to afford the medications they need.
Nora Ahram, manager of the Florin Road Rite Aid Pharmacy in Sacramento, says many of her patients struggle to pay for their prescriptions. To save money “they’ll take their medications every other day,” she said, but they need to understand, “it’s not going to help if you don’t take it every single day.”
By switching patients to generic prescriptions as often as possible and looking for discounts patients can use from assistance programs offered by drugs companies, Aharm says she tries to “maximize cost saving options” as often as possible for her patients.
Prescription non-adherence costs the American health care system an estimated $300 billion a year, according to the NCL. Poor adherence is detrimental not only to patient’s health, but also is likely to cost them more money in avoidable hospital visits and procedures.