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Better Communication with Doctor Improves Medication Use

< Jan. 09, 2013 > -- Medication works best when it's taken properly. But many of us sometimes have trouble doing so. Maybe you're unsure about taking a certain drug with another prescription. Or perhaps you don't know how long you should keep popping that pill. A recent study suggests part of the problem may be how well you and your doctor are communicating.

Photo of doctor talking with patient in office

A better conversation

The study included more than 9,300 patients taking prescriptions to lower blood sugar, blood pressure, or cholesterol. Through a questionnaire, researchers asked study participants how they interacted with their doctors. They then compared those results with the patients' prescription records. The comparison helped researchers find out if patients were taking medication as prescribed.

"Thirty percent of study participants were not necessarily taking their medications the way their doctors thought they were," says study lead author Neda Ratanawongsa, M.D., an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that a better relationship overall between patients and doctors improved medication use. In fact, patients who communicated well with their doctors in general were more likely to take their medication. "Rates for nonadherence were 4 to 6 percent lower for patients who felt their doctors listened to them, involved them in decisions, and gained their trust," says Dr. Ratanawongsa.

A partnership in care

You and your doctor have the same goal in mind: keeping you healthy. But it's important that you do your part. Tell your doctor if you are taking any of the following:

  • Prescription medications

  • Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, cough medicine, or antacids

  • Vitamins

  • Herbal supplements like ginkgo biloba or other supplements like fish oil or glucosamine/chondroitin

Also, let your doctor know if you are allergic to any drugs. And mention if you have any medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If you are concerned about how much a medicine may cost, explain that to your doctor. He or she may be able to prescribe you a similar drug that costs less.

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4 Tips for Managing Your Medicines

You can do a lot to help your medications work safely and effectively. Experts suggest that you:

  • Gather information. Request brochures and pamphlets about your condition and medication from your doctor's office. Ask your doctor to recommend reliable websites that may help.


  • Don't rely on your memory. Buy a special pill case that's divided into the days of the week. Then keep it somewhere in plain sight but safe from children. Newer boxes have built-in alarms and a recorded voice to remind you. Another idea: Take your medication at the same time every day, perhaps when you brush your teeth or feed the dog.


  • Don't just stop taking a medication. Before you stop taking a medication or start taking fewer doses to save money or simplify your schedule, call your doctor - even if symptoms disappear or you don't think the medicine is working. Suddenly stopping some medications can be dangerous.


  • Ask about a simpler schedule. If you just can't keep track of all your medications and when to take them, ask your doctor for help. With some medications, you may be able to switch to a different dose that doesn't need to be taken as often.


Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - Your Medicine: Be Smart, Be Safe

FDA - Are You Taking Medication as Prescribed?

National Institute on Aging - Taking Medicines