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The Epidemic of Noncompliance: Why People Should Take Their Meds

by Dr. Sharon Orrange on January 27, 2014 at 11:07 am

Help physicians understand why patients, particularly with chronic conditions, don’t take their medications as prescribed. We know from surveys of doctors from coast to coast that we all feel frustrated by it, and ⅓ of doctors say it affects their ability to provide optimal care. Why should you take your medications? As our former Surgeon General once said: “Drugs don’t work in people who don’t take them.”

The facts:

  • In the United States, over 50% of medications prescribed are taken incorrectly or not taken at all.
  • One third of folks with chronic conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) don’t fill their new prescriptions at all.
  • Poor compliance (not taking your meds) accounts for 33 – 70% of drug-related adverse events that result in hospital admissions. I see this all the time.
  • Forty percent of nursing home admissions are associated with poor compliance with medication.
  • Poor medication compliance is implicated in over 125,000 US deaths per year. What?!
  • Poor compliance is estimated to cost the US Healthcare system $290 billion a year.

Those who do:

  • Compared with patients who follow instructions, patients who don’t take their meds have a 5 times higher risk of death if they have high blood pressure—2.8 times higher if they have high cholesterol.
  • The rate of noncompliance hasn’t changed over the past couple decades. So we aren’t getting any better at taking meds, despite the fact that newer medication regimens are known to save lives for folks with heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure, and have better side effect profiles.

 The heart:

  • Heartbreaking (literally) for physicians is the number of folks with cardiac conditions who don’t take their meds.
  • Within two years after a heart attack, only half of patients were taking their heart meds (beta blockers, ace inhibitors, etc).
  • As an example, taking a beta blocker (metoprolol, carvedilol, etc) after a heart attack reduces your risk of death by 20 – 30%. Do we hear this? Taking a pill every day will reduce your risk of death by ⅓. Please take it.
  • Folks, heart disease is the number one cause of death in adults. These medications have been proven to save lives after heart attack, why don’t we take them?

Dr O.

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