Patients Not Taking Their Drugs? Ways You Can Change That

Shelly Reese


October 13, 2017

In This Article

One Reason Patients Don't Take Their Drugs

It's a familiar moment in the clinical encounter: You prescribe a medication for your patient's condition, when she suddenly grows quiet and drops her gaze to the floor. You sense that something has shifted, but you can't quite put your finger on it and you're running late. It's only later that you realize the problem: She can't afford to fill the prescription.

High drug prices are having a profound impact on patient adherence. Escalating generic drug costs and high copayments can make it difficult for even insured patients to afford their medications. Newly approved drugs pose an even greater challenge: Of the 12 drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for various cancer indications in 2012, 11 cost more than $100,000 per year.[1]

In a survey of more than 1100 US adults who currently take prescription medications, more than one half (57%) had taken potentially dangerous steps in the past year to curb their drug spending.[2] Among respondents with a pharmacy benefit, 19% skipped filling a prescription because of cost; 17% skipped a dose without professional approval; and 7% cut pills in half, again without approval. For respondents without a pharmacy benefit, such cost-cutting behavior was even more common: 37% said they had neglected to fill a prescription, skipped doses (33%), or cut pills in half (18%).

Pervasive though the problem of drug costs may be, the topic is often given short shrift during the clinical encounter. Doctors often don't know the prices of the drugs they prescribe. Only 5% of the respondents surveyed by Consumer Reports found out the cost of their medication at the doctor's office. But it's also a difficult conversation for both physicians and their patients.

"You're talking about money and health, and those are two of the most culturally sensitive topics you can hit," notes Craig Kennedy, executive director of the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved.


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