Why Might Half the Meds in Your Cabinet Be Useless?

It’s astonishing to think that half of all prescriptions are guaranteed not to work. This isn’t due to any fault in the medication itself, but rather because approximately half of all the people who are given prescriptions don’t even bother to take them as prescribed. Researchers have yet to figure out how to ensure patient compliance with prescribed medications, despite the significant amount of time and money invested in the issue.

Imagine, more than $325 billion are spent on pharmaceutical drugs every year, but at least half of that massive sum could be wasted on medications that never get taken, or that sit in medicine cabinets until they expire. That’s a staggering amount of waste, and it’s a problem that desperately requires a solution.

Reviewing the Research

A review conducted for the Cochrane Library explored 182 trials that investigated different methods to help patients take their prescribed medications in the right dosage, in the right amounts, and at the right times. However, the researchers found that very few of these studies were well-designed, and none of them provided an effective solution.

Robby Nieuwlaat, a researcher from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Canada and one of the contributors to the review, explains that the disparities between the design and results of the various studies made it nearly impossible to come to any general conclusions.

He goes on to say, “Based on this evidence, it is uncertain how adherence to medication can be consistently improved. We need to see larger and higher quality trials, which better take into account individual patient’s problems with adherence.”

The Continuing Struggle to Understand Medication Adherence

Dr. David Tovey, Editor in Chief of the Cochrane Library, highlights that the review addresses one of the most significant challenges in health care — medication adherence. He finds it hard to believe that so much research has not led to a better understanding of how to improve this pervasive problem.

“With the costs of health care across the world increasing, we’ve never needed evidence to answer this question more than we do now,” Dr. Tovey emphasizes.

The Consequences of Non-adherence

The issue of medication non-adherence goes far beyond the financial consequences of billions of wasted dollars. Failing to take medications as prescribed can lead to serious health risks for patients, including increased hospitalizations, illness, and even death.

For example, the American Heart Association states that non-adherence to cardiovascular medications can result in significant health issues, such as heart attacks or strokes. Medications for other chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension can have similar negative outcomes when not taken correctly.

Addressing the Problem

Healthcare providers, patients, and communities all have a role to play in improving medication adherence. Some potential steps to help increase adherence include:

  • Improved patient education: Health professionals and pharmacists should focus on educating patients about their medications, including their potential side effects, how long they need to take them, and the importance of following the prescription instructions.

  • Simplified medication regimens: Providers should work with patients to streamline their medications and make them as simple as possible to take. This could include prescribing fewer treatment options, or medications that are easy to follow.

  • Affordable medication options: People living with financial difficulties may struggle to purchase their prescribed medications, leading to non-adherence. Encouraging the use of generic alternatives, or helping patients find medication assistance programs, can help ensure they can access the treatment they need.

  • Accessible healthcare services and providers: Trusted relationships between patients and healthcare providers can increase the likelihood of patients taking their medications correctly. This requires ensuring healthcare services are accessible and communities are well-served by healthcare professionals.

The problem of medication non-adherence is not a simple one, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It requires a combination of efforts from all the parties involved in a patient’s healthcare – from the physicians who prescribe the medications and the pharmacists who dispense them, to the patients themselves and the communities they live in.

Ultimately, addressing the challenge of medication adherence can lead to better patient outcomes, less waste in our healthcare systems, and improved overall health for all. Isn’t that a goal worth working towards?