Take as Directed: Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist to Improve Medication Adherence

July 2019

Medication adherence—that is, taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor— is easier said than done. It’s estimated some 50 percent of Americans fail to take their chronic medications correctly, putting their treatment at risk. The repercussions can be serious, with nonadherence accounting for an estimated 125,000 deaths and 25 percent of hospitalizations in the U.S. each year, according to a report published by the U.S. Pharmacist.

Before you leave the pharmacy with your prescription, take time to talk with your pharmacist. Face-to-face counseling is one of the most effective ways to increase medication adherence. Asking your pharmacist the following key questions can help you take your medications as prescribed.

Q. Do you offer automatic refills?

Why this matters: It’s important to take your medications without interruption. If your prescription runs out of refills, the pharmacy will need to call your doctor’s office to renew it. If you wait until the weekend to refill your prescription, your doctor’s office may be closed, and you can end up missing two or more days of medication.

Signing up for automatic refills notifies the pharmacy ahead of time that a renewal is needed, so you don’t miss a dose. Automatic refills have been shown to increase medication adherence without increasing wasted medication.

Q. Do you offer convenience packaging?

Why this matters: It’s easy to forget to take your daily medication. If you have more than one medication or need to take pills several times a day, it can be even more confusing. With convenience packaging, all your daily medications are bundled together and labeled with the specific date and time of day they should be taken.

Q. Do you offer medication delivery?

Why this matters: Medications delivered to your mailbox can eliminate two common reasons why people don’t pick up their medications from the pharmacy on time or at all: forgetting to do it and difficulty getting to the pharmacy. When your prescription is delivered directly to you, you don’t have to worry about remembering to pick up your refill. Medication delivery can be especially helpful if getting to the pharmacy is a challenge for you for any reason, such as lack of transportation, frequent bad weather or health issues that limit your mobility or leave you homebound.

Q. How can your compounding services help?

Why this matters: It may be physically difficult for you to take certain medications. Pills may be too large, or medication may be bitter, making it difficult to swallow.

Compounding services make taking your medication easier by:

  • Changing pills into liquid or gel form.
  • Adding a flavor to the medication to make it tolerable.
  • Preventing an allergic reaction by removing nonessential ingredients such as dyes, sugar, lactose or alcohol.

There are other benefits of compounding as well. Ask your pharmacist for more information.

Q. How can you lower the cost of my medication?

Why this matters: You might be worried you can’t pay for your medication. To stretch your dollars, you may take less than the prescribed amount or skip doses. These types of cost-cutting measures can put your health at serious risk.

Your pharmacist can offer solutions to lower your drug costs. For example, if your doctor prescribed a brand-name drug, the pharmacist can obtain their approval for a generic version. Generics often cost significantly less but are just as effective. Your pharmacist can also help you look into programs from the drug manufacturer, which may offer a specific supply of your medication for free or at a reduced cost.

Q. If I have concerns about the side effects of my medication, should I continue to take it anyway?

Why this matters: Drug labels are required to list all the known possible side effects of a drug—and some sound downright scary. Worrying about side effects can often cause people to stop taking their medication, even if they don’t experience any side effects. It’s called rational nonadherence.

Your pharmacist can answer questions related to your medication. They can also explain the most common side effects and ways to manage them. Some drugs can put you at serious risk if stopped abruptly. Call your doctor or pharmacist before stopping any medication.

Q. Could I have drug interactions with other drugs when taking this medication?

Why this matters: Drug interactions can cause you to experience more severe side effects or reduce the efficacy of the medications you are taking. That’s why it’s important to fill all your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, especially if you see more than one doctor or specialist. The pharmacist can look at your list of medications and flag potential problems.

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