Commentary: Take your medicine

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By Richard Vienne, D.O.
The World Health Organization says that getting more patients to take their medications as directed may have a far greater impact on the health of the population than any improvement in specific medical treatments.

Now that sounds simple enough. You have an illness and your doctor prescribes something that’ll help you get better or at least live more comfortably with your condition. But the sad reality is that prescription medications often are not being used as prescribed, or at all, which is especially frustrating since so much attention is being focused on improving the quality of care.

A Univera Healthcare commissioned survey on medication adherence revealed that four out of every 10 upstate New York adults living with chronic conditions report that they don’t always take their medications as prescribed. The survey, using an independent firm, also explored the related vital topic of adherence to prescribed antibiotics. Here, we found that two out of 10 adults are self-reporting non-adherence, a measure that establishes a level of danger to society because antibiotic resistant bacteria can develop as a direct result of patients who don’t complete the full course of treatment as prescribed.

The Univera survey results are consistent with national studies and include forgetting, or not having a pill handy, as the primary reasons for medication non-adherence for those on an antibiotic or a medication for a chronic condition. The survey focused on adults taking medication for four common chronic conditions: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression, as well as adults who had been prescribed an antibiotic medication within the past six months.

Hundreds of thousands of upstate New Yorkers who have the four conditions we reviewed are not getting the real benefit of their medicines, and there are many other medical conditions we didn’t evaluate, so the numbers are understated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of physician office visits in the U.S. involve drug therapy, with 2.6 billion drugs ordered or provided. If those medications are used as prescribed, health outcomes are improved, chronic conditions are managed, health care dollars are used efficiently and lives are saved. To improve their health, patients who have medical conditions should take their medicines as directed by their physicians. Doing so will also help them avoid hospitalizations and other complications.

A summary report of the survey, as well as past fact sheets about Medication Adherence in upstate New York, can be found at

Richard Vienne, D.O., is vice president and chief medical officer at Univera Healthcare. 

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