So You're Confused About Your Daily Meds

Apr 11, 2013
Remembering to take your medications as prescribed daily can be challenging. Dr. Curt Furberg provides some helpful tips.

It seems like it should be a simple task, but as anyone prescribed a long-term drug knows, taking medications regularly and properly can be challenging. In fact, the problem is so widespread that people typically only take half of the dosages of medications they’re supposed to.

There are different reasons:

  • Drug labels can sometimes be difficult to understand
  • Dosages can change over time
  • The look of a medication may vary

Medication side effects and cost also can play a role in patient nonadherence.

Interestingly, the biggest barrier of all is patient behavior. It can be tough to remember exactly when and how to take each medication, especially for patients who are on multiple prescriptions. According to Express Scripts research, 69% of nonadherence is from patients simply forgetting to take a dose, or procrastinating prescription refills and renewals.

There are a number of simple approaches that can help improve medication adherence:

Make it easy: Take medications in conjunction with a specific daily activity — for example, at meal time or before you go to bed.

Make it convenient: Put medications in a visible location where they are easily accessible. However, if there is a child or teen in the house you should substitute the actual medication with a reminder, such as a note or empty medication bottle.

Use reminders: Set up an alarm to help remember each day’s doses. Also, minimize the chance of procrastination by signing up for automated refills from your pharmacy benefit manager and using 90-day supplies through home delivery. Some reminders may actually already be in place — a recent Express Scripts pilot placed laser-etched messaging on pill caps to remind patients to renew and refill medications.

Use a pill box: These are simple, easily available and effective tools for keeping track of medications. 

In most cases, if you mistakenly skip a dose, you can resume your regular schedule and should not make up for the forgotten dose. While in most cases, a single missed dose won’t have serious consequences, there are certain conditions for which taking every dose is essential. It’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor or pharmacist if you do forget to take your medication.

Medication Changes

You’ve been taking a certain medication for a period of time, but when you get your refill, it doesn’t look quite the same. A change may have been made to lower the cost. In most cases, you’ve been taking a brand-name drug that is now available as a generic. Or if you’ve been using a generic, it may have been changed to a generic of a different manufacturer. Though the look, taste and smell may be different, the active ingredient and dose is the same. Generics, on average, cost 81% less than brand medications. And yet, in the U.S. alone using a brand-name medication when a clinically equivalent generic was available cost $49.8 billion in pharmacy waste in 2011. This leaves a significant opportunity for savings on the table. That’s why it's always a good idea to ask: Is there a generic for that?

When in Doubt, Double Check

If the name or the look of the medication isn’t familiar, you should confirm that it’s the correct drug. Websites, such as WebMD, offer pill identification services which provide images of available drugs, or you can check with your pharmacist.

Do Your Part to Prevent Medication Errors

Checking to make sure a drug is the correct one is always a good idea. It’s estimated that at least 1.5 million preventable medication errors occur in the U.S. each year. A portion of these medication errors occur when doctors prescribe a wrong or inappropriate drug or when pharmacists misread a doctor’s handwriting or make a mistake when filling the prescription. While ePrescribing helps reduce transcription errors, the practice hasn't yet been universally adopted.

Safety and Savings Through Home Delivery

To prevent these mistakes, see if home delivery is an option. Home delivery has a 99.99% dispensing accuracy. It also is less expensive, and using home delivery could help reduce pharmacy waste by billions of dollars.

Watch Out for Drug Interactions

Maintain an ongoing list of all prescriptions and vitamins, and bring the list with you to your doctor visit to ensure that the medication being prescribed doesn’t conflict with another drug or condition you have. When you receive your medication from the pharmacy, always check the drug information and the container label for your name, the name of the medication and the dose. Ask the pharmacist if any of that information seems incorrect.

Learn More

Express Scripts members can learn more about taking medications properly and download selected chapters from the eBook, Knowing Your Medications: A Guide to Becoming an Informed Patient, by signing in to their member account. To purchase a copy, visit

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