Patients Not Taking Their Drugs? Ways You Can Change That

Shelly Reese


October 13, 2017

In This Article

Patients May Be Taken by Surprise

Unless physicians broach that delicate topic, patients often don't realize they can't afford a prescription until they are standing at the pharmacy counter. Too often, faced with a daunting bill, they simply walk away.

"Physicians find out too late that their patients couldn't afford their prescription," Kennedy says. "I hear, 'I didn't know that they didn't fill their prescription until the next visit.'"

Dr Rich Sagall, president and cofounder of NeedyMeds, a nonprofit group that provides information to people who can't afford medications and healthcare expenses, believes the only way to address cost barriers is to discuss them in a forthright way across the board for all patients as part of a routine line of questioning: "Are you allergic to any medications? What other medications are you taking? Can you afford this medication?"

"Studies show that very few doctors even broach the subject of cost," he says. "You need to address the issue in a very matter-of-fact way, and ask about ability to pay so that it becomes something routine that you ask everyone." Doing so eliminates any stigma or stereotyping, he says. "You can never tell who is struggling. Your patient may be someone who just lost a high-powered job."

Dr Wanda Filer agrees that "costs are an issue across the board. A family physician, Dr Filer worked in an economically stable suburban community before joining a federally qualified health center in York, Pennsylvania. The difference? "Cost issues were just more hidden in the suburban practice."

Although cost concerns may be a sensitive topic to raise, she notes that it is no more sensitive— and no less important—than other delicate subjects, such as screening for domestic violence. "I preface my question by explaining that taking your medications is very important and that cost is a common barrier to compliance. If you move from point to point so that patients understand why you are asking, they don't take offense."


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