A recent LA Times story quoted data from a study conducted by Kaiser Health News found that nearly half of patients misunderstood what it or other common label instructions meant on medicine bottles. Consequently, they are advocating that the Food and Drug Administration should aim to simplify, clarify and standardize the labels that are affixed to those drugs.
According to the LA Times, “Medication compliance, or ‘adherence,’ as it’s called, is a big problem. Despite the fact that 87 percent of people in a recent survey said they thought prescription medicines were important to their health, only about half of those surveyed take their drugs as directed. People skip doses, take the wrong number of pills, and take pills at the wrong time of day, among many other problems. Poor adherence results in up to $290 billion in medical expenses each year, according to NEHI, a health research organization.”
The study found that in general, people are more compliant with drugs for acute conditions such as a bladder infection than for chronic problems like diabetes. But both are problematic, and the reasons people offer for not taking their drugs are as varied as the drugs they’re not taking. In that patient survey, 59 percent said they stopped taking their medication because they were feeling better and didn’t think it was necessary to continue, while 25 percent said they stopped because they weren’t feeling any better. Thirty-seven percent were worried about side effects, while 24 percent said their drugs were too expensive.
“Simple forgetfulness may be the culprit in many cases of non-adherence, especially when a drug doesn’t actually make people feel any different. Drugs to treat high cholesterol or high blood pressure fall into this category. Many researchers and others involved in medication adherence issues are excited about the potential of technology to both educate patients and provide a “tickler” system to remind them to take their drugs,” said the LA Times.
While no single strategy or technology will get everyone to take their medicine as directed, experts agree that clear instructions on the pill bottle are a basic requirement if that’s to happen. Many of the USP recommendations seem like common sense: place patient information and instructions at the top of the label in bigger type than the doctor or pharmacy name or information on refills and expiration; use everyday words like high blood pressure instead of hypertension; keep auxiliary information, such as warnings, simple and straightforward.
And to avoid confusion over things such as dosages and when to take the medication, the recommendations say, keep those instructions separate and simple, using numbers instead of words when appropriate. With those guidelines in mind, perhaps fewer people would be confused by the instruction that started this column. The new and improved pill bottle would read, “Take 2 tablets by mouth in the morning and 2 tablets by mouth in the evening.”
Medication compliance is one of the major roles that home aides play when working with patients. They can monitor patients to ensure that the right doses of medications are being taken at the right times, and whether they should be taken with meals or not. Home aides also can determine if medications are being effective or if there are unanticipated side effects. Ask Assisting Hands® about their services or visit assistinghandschicago.com.