Ask a Pharmacist: Taking Your MedicationsPosted by Medicare Made Clear
Information on your medications from UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement Chief Pharmacy Officer Mike Anderson, Pharm.D.
Question: Sometimes my doctor gives me a prescription, but I don’t really know if I have to take it. Do I always need to fill my prescriptions and take the medicine?
Question: Sometimes, it’s just so hard to remember to take my meds. Do you have any tips to make it easier?
Answer: I’ve combined both of these questions because they both touch on the larger issue of what we in health care call “medication adherence.” Basically, that just refers to how well our patients do in taking medicine that’s been prescribed them by their doctors. Sometimes we’re talking about just taking the medicine you already have, but sometimes we have to talk about getting your prescriptions filled in the first place.
Medication adherence is really important to health care professionals. Why? Because we care about your health and well-being. And when you don’t take your medications, you put your health and well-being at risk. Here’s what the recent research tells us:
1. Patients who stop taking their medications, or don’t take them as advised by their doctors, are more likely to suffer serious health consequences than those who do.1
2. Patients who don’t take their medications after they leave the hospital are more likely to end up back in the hospital than those who do.1
3. A recent study showed that patients with diabetes and high blood pressure saved thousands of dollars each year on other health care costs when they took their medications as prescribed.2
I don’t want to scare you, but I do want you to understand how important it is to take the medication prescribed to you by your doctor. Here are a few tips to help you get better at taking your medications.
Look for ways to save on your prescription drugs. I’ll go into greater detail in a later blog post, but let me encourage you now to do everything you can to not let prescription drug expenses keep you from filling your prescriptions. If you’re having trouble paying for your prescriptions, go to your Medicare Part D plan’s website or call the number on your member ID card. There might be lower-cost alternatives for some of the drugs you’re taking. You can also look into Medicare’s Extra Help program, which helps pay for the cost of Medicare Part D prescription drugs.
Consider a mail-order pharmacy program. If it’s too much trouble for you to get to the pharmacy to fill your prescriptions, consider getting your maintenance medications (the ones you take every day) filled for a 90-day supply through a mail-order service. That way, you don’t need to remember to go to the drug store each month. Check with your Medicare Part D plan to see if there’s a mail-order pharmacy program you can use.
Get organized. Once you’ve filled your prescriptions, there are lots of tips and tricks you can use to help you remember to take your medication as they’ve been prescribed to you:
1. Get it down on paper. Create a chart that shows all the medications you take, how much to take and when to take them during the day. Some people find that using a calendar helps them to remember to take their medications each day.
2. Plan ahead. Use a pillbox to lay out your prescription drugs for either a day or even a week at a time. And keep your medications in one safe place, such as a kitchen cabinet.
3. Make it a habit. If you can, take your medication at the same time every day.
Look for useful e-tools. If you have a smart phone, there are apps that can help you manage your medications. With ScriptHubSM from UnitedHealthcare, for example, you can enter your meds and set up medication reminders. The medicine reminder feature allows you to set when (for example, at noon), how (with food) and how often (daily) to take your medicine. Then your phone will alert you when it’s time to take it.
You can download ScriptHub for free from the iTunes App Store or check for other apps you can use.
Make a pledge to take care of you.
Medication adherence is a big deal for your doctors and pharmacists, and hopefully now it’s a big deal to you, too. Your doctor may prescribe a medication, but it’s up to you to take it.
To learn more, take a look at this video in which Dr. Reed Tuckson addresses “Dr. You” and your medications.
This Medicare Made Clear blog post is part of the ongoing “Ask a Pharmacist” series, which addresses common questions about prescription drugs and other medications. Read other articles in this series for more answers to your questions on medication.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.
1“Take Meds Faithfully,” Consumer Reports Shopper’s Guide to Prescription Drugs (No. 7), 2007.
2“Medication Adherence Leads To Lower Health Care Use And Costs Despite Increased Drug Spending,” Health Affairs, January 2011.
Medicare Part D Coverage – Prescription Drug Plans: Check out this section of the Medicare Made Clear website, complete with a video on Part D.
Medicare & You: The U.S. government’s official Medicare handbook, available online.