By Mona Chitre, Pharm.D.

Medication adherence is the fancy term for taking meds as directed. You might assume that patients always adhere to the instructions they’re given, but that’s not the case. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 20 to 30% of prescriptions are never filled, and of those that are, half are not taken as directed, including not following timing, dosage, frequency, or duration instructions. That means, at best, just 40% of prescriptions are taken properly.

Medication adherence is especially important for managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. According to the CDC, the majority of patients prescribed a medication for a chronic disease take less than prescribed, or stop taking it altogether, within six months.

One missed dose may not be a big deal, but when missed doses begin to add up, your health can take a serious hit – even to the point of being deadly. The National Institutes of Health calculates that not taking medications as directed may result in 100,000 preventable deaths annually in the United States, while the American Heart Association puts the impact on health care spending at nearly $300 billion a year in additional doctor visits, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations. There is also a cost to employers in lost earnings and lost productivity due to employee absence and underperformance resulting from illness or physical condition.

Surveys conducted by Univera Healthcare revealed reasons why patients may not take their medications as prescribed. They may forget, misunderstand instructions, or decide they don’t need them any longer because their symptoms have subsided. A medication may be too expensive, have undesirable side effects, or the instructions may be complex.

We need to do better.

Arranging for prescription home delivery, offered by many pharmacies, may improve adherence. Patients having trouble affording a medication can ask their physician or pharmacist if there is a lower-cost generic version, or an approved alternative treatment that may cost less. Other tips include establishing a routine for taking medications, using pill box organizers, and downloading phone app reminders.

Statista, a global data and business intelligence platform, estimates that 4.9 billion retail prescriptions will be filled in the United States this year. When those medications are taken as directed, health outcomes improve, chronic conditions are managed, health care dollars are used efficiently, and lives are saved.

Mona Chitre, Pharm.D. is chief pharmacy officer and president of pharmacy solutions at Univera Healthcare.