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Compliance with drug therapy

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Are you the type of person who doesn’t really like to take medication? If so, you’re not alone. But what if taking your medication on a regular basis was only one of several ways to stay healthy?

Non-compliance with drug therapy: a problem that is all too real

For some people, taking medication every day can feel like an obligation. This partly explains why nowadays, over half of all medications prescribed by doctors are never taken, or are discarded during the course of treatment. This phenomenon may seem surprising, but it is a reality. Even people who are very sick sometimes tend to neglect their drug therapy, taking it sporadically or lowering their dose in ways that can be harmful to their health. So what is the cause of this reluctance?

There are several factors that can decrease a person’s motivation to take his or her medication regularly.

For example:

  • Not feeling the benefits of treatment. This is especially true for chronic, or “silent”, diseases (without signs), such as osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure or certain heart conditions.
  • Beliefs or education. If you come from a family or belong to a group that does not believe in taking medication, it is normal to feel hesitant.
  • Fear of side effects or experiencing side effects. This is definitely one of the main reasons why people have difficulty complying with their drug treatment.
  • Distrusting health professionals. For various reasons, some people don’t trust their health professional. This makes it even more difficult to trust the medication he or she prescribes or gives them.
  • Unwillingness to accept the illness and its consequences. Some people don’t want to believe they are sick, or that their condition can lead to more serious consequences.
  • Complexity of treatment. It is true that having to take several medications or doses every day can make things more difficult.
  • Cost of treatment. Most drugs are covered by prescription drug insurance, but occasionally, the cost of some medications can be higher.

The importance of a risk-benefit analysis

The decision to take medication is one of utmost importance. One of the best ways to help you make the right decision is the risk-benefit analysis.

Imagine an old-fashioned scale on which you place weights on each side, tipping the scale to one side or the other. When it comes to taking medication, imagine putting on one side the benefits that come, or will come, from taking it, and on the other side, the actual or potential disadvantages associated with the medication. If the scale leans towards the benefits, i.e. they outweigh the risks, you may conclude that the best decision is to take the medication. In the opposite case, it may be best to abstain from taking it.

Let’s take an extreme case as an example. A doctor has prescribed you medication that could relieve your symptoms, but you are allergic to it. In this case, without a doubt, the disadvantage (an allergic reaction) largely surpasses the benefits this medication could bring. Conclusion: you decide not to take the medication.

On the other hand, let’s say you suffer from frequent severe headaches. At home, you have a vial of over-the-counter analgesics that relieve your pain immediately after you take them. In addition, when you take them, you don’t feel any particular side effect. The decision to take this medication is easy since its benefits outweigh its risks.

Your doctor and pharmacist always do a risk-benefit analysis when they prescribe or hand you medication.

To make the best decision possible, they must take several factors into consideration, such as:

  • your age;
  • your overall health;
  • the illness(es) you suffer from;
  • other medication you are taking;
  • potential side effects of the medication;
  • your allergies and previous reactions to medication;
  • your lifestyle.

To decide whether or not a medication will make it to the Canadian market, Health Canada must realize the same type of analysis in the light of scientific data collected on the medication to be studied. Throughout the medication’s “life”, Health Canada actually analyses it continuously to endure that the medication is beneficial and safe for the Canadian population. If this is not the case, the medication is taken off the market.

Your pharmacist is a very helpful resource to do a risk-benefit analysis of your medication. Seek his or her advice; the more informed you are, the better you’ll be able to make the best decisions for your health.

Helpful tips

Here are a few additional tips that may help you improve your compliance to your drug treatment:

  • Make sure you know the names of your medications and the reasons why you take them. Ask your pharmacist what their benefits will be next week, in six months, in two years, etc.
  • Ask a lot of questions to your pharmacist and doctor. Make sure you have all of the information you need before making any decision.
  • With your pharmacist, determine the best time of day to take your medication, not only by taking into account its mode of action, but also your lifestyle and your preferences. 
  • If you are experiencing a side effect after taking medication, talk to your pharmacist as soon as possible. She or he can suggest ways to alleviate it or other treatment options.
  • Ask your pharmacist for advice on how to make it easier to take your medication. Using a daily pill organizer, for example, could be a helpful solution.  
  • If you do not trust or feel comfortable with your health professional, consider seeing someone else. It can often be difficult to change doctors since they are hard to find, but this is not the case for pharmacists. Choose one who is generous with his or her time, knowledge and listening skills.

Complying with your drug treatment must be a commitment you make to yourself, for your well-being and your health. Although it is true that many people don’t exactly love taking medication, everyone can agree on the fact that we all hope to stay healthy for as long as possible. You are in charge of your own health, so make sure you make well-informed decisions!

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