The Doctor Will See You Now – Taking Medication as Prescribed: It’s What the Doctor Ordered

By Alicia Pruitt, Optum New Mexico Doctor of Nursing Practice

Medication adherence is a growing concern for physicians and health care systems. Almost half of Americans have taken at least one prescription medication at some point, and half of those have taken three or more simultaneously. Prescription medication can have important health and quality of life benefits, but these benefits are realized only if people take the medication as prescribed and for the duration prescribed.

What does medication adherence mean?

Taking medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor is referred to as medication adherence.

Medication adherence is important to everyone’s health, especially for the 60 percent of adults suffering from at least one chronic condition. To be considered adherent, a person has to take their medication at least 80 percent of the time. Unfortunately, only about half of patients do this, and up to a quarter of prescriptions for medication are never even filled.

Reasons people do not follow prescriptions 

Often, nonadherence goes unnoticed until harmful symptoms occur, which may result in unnecessary or even harmful adjustments in treatment planning. If someone has high blood pressure and isn’t taking their medication, their doctor may think the medication isn’t working and change the medicine or dose.

While there are times when people simply forget to take their medication, most nonadherence is an intentional decision. The reasons for this are unique to each person. Some of these include:

  • Fear of side effects
  • Cost of medication
  • Not understanding the need for the medication or how long it can take to see results
  • Too many medications to keep track of for those with multiple prescriptions
  • Thinking medication is no longer needed when symptoms begin to dissipate
  • Lack of trust in pharmaceutical companies
  • Concerns about becoming dependent on medication
  • Depression

The solution

The most important tool doctors and patients can use to overcome the barriers to medication adherence is communication.

Regular conversations between doctor and patient will reveal whether medication adherence is a problem. Doctors need to understand and address the possible reasons a patient might not be taking medication, so it is imperative that patients are truthful and open to discussing their reasons.

If you have not been taking medication as prescribed, do not fear discussing it with your doctor. He or she is concerned with your wellbeing. By communicating openly and with trust, a doctor and patient can create a treatment plan together that is medically sound and more likely to be followed.

Your doctor and pharmacist can help you understand:

  • Why a prescribed medication is necessary for your health circumstances
  • The potential side effects, along with strategies to mitigate them when possible
  • How your medication may interact with other medications and supplements you are taking

Making Your Medicines Work Better for You, a class hosted by Optum New Mexico partner Oasis of Albuquerque, is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 15 at Oasis, 3301 Menaul Blvd. NE. It will focus on which medications and supplements can be taken simultaneously and which cannot; review questions to ask your provider or pharmacist; and offer guidance on how best to avoid side effects. Registration via the Oasis website,, is required, and there is a nominal fee.

The key to experiencing the most benefit from prescription medication in the safest possible way is to learn the facts.

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