Rx for Safety: How-and Why-to Take Your Medicine as Directed

October 01, 2013

Mary Poppins made it sound like child’s play in “A Spoonful of Sugar,” but the truth is that nearly three out of four Americans don’t take medicine as directed.

Considering nearly 4 billion prescription drugs were filled at retail pharmacies in 2011—nearly 400 million in California alone—that’s a whole lot of medicine not being used the right way.

To make sure you’re getting the most out of your medications, two internal-medicine physicians with Axminster Medical Group, a Providence-affiliated medical group, weigh in on the issue.

Doing Your Part

  • Fill your prescription. Sometimes patients just don’t want to be on a drug or can’t afford it. In other cases, they fear side effects. “Most side effects are annoying or bothersome, but they will go away,” says Susannah Ehret, MD.
  • Get tough. Swallow the pill. The effects of not taking medication can be severe—especially if the drug is designed to control blood pressure, diabetes or cholesterol. “Over time, vital organs can be damaged,” she says.
  • Take all your medication. “Sometimes people stop taking antibiotics as soon as they feel better. This only allows bacteria that escaped the initial treatment to become resistant,” Dr. Ehret cautions.

Doing Our Part

Both Dr. Ehret and Spencer Wenger, MD, view clear communication as their top tool in ensuring patient safety.

Direct patient-to-doctor email helps. “Patients may be concerned about side effects, and now they can write me with their concerns directly,” Dr. Ehret says.

Both doctors are bilingual, speaking English and Spanish, which aids in cross-cultural communication for Spanish-speaking patients. “While knowing other languages is useful, what helps even more is knowing the culture,” Dr. Wenger says. “It’s important to know the things that patients fear. Sometimes they fear medication more than the disease.

“I always tell my patients, the reason you’re on a strong medicine is you’re up against a strong enemy. There’s a fight going on,” he says. “And it’s worth it to win.”