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Disregarding Prescription Instructions Can Cost You More Than Your Health

The Value of Following Directions

Disregarding Prescription Instructions Can Cost You More Than Your Health

As the economic downturn has highlighted for many of us the costs associated with being sick, staying healthy has never seemed more important. In fact, one of the leading causes of bankruptcy today is medical debt. Having health insurance isn’t always a cure-all—slightly more than 50 percent of all personal bankruptcies stem from medical debt of those with health insurance. A significant percentage of people who list medical debt as a reason for bankruptcy are 65 and older. One simple way to contribute to better health—and thus, avoid extra medical costs—is ensuring you follow the proper regimen when taking prescribed medications. Consistency is important, especially when it comes to prescriptions.

The Cost of Not Taking Your Medications

A 2009 report by the New England Healthcare Institute ( found that not taking medications as prescribed leads to poorer health, more frequent hospitalization, a higher risk of death and as much as $290 billion annually in increased medical costs. Nearly one-third to one-half of U.S. patients do not take medications as instructed. Examples of this include not taking medications on time or in the proper doses, or missing doses completely. Reasons for not following the proper medication regimen include unpleasant side effects, confusion, forgetfulness, language barriers, and feeling “too good” to need medicine. People with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes are among the groups less likely to follow the proper medication regimen.

The Negative Economic Impact

Studies have shown that medication non-compliance causes 125,000 deaths annually in the United States2, leads to 10 to 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions, and is becoming an international epidemic.

  • 23% of nursing home admissions are due to noncompliance3, resulting in a cost of $31.3 billion per 380,000 patients.
  • 10% of hospital admissions are due to noncompliance4, 5, resulting in a cost of $15.2 billion per 3.5 million patients.

Prescription Statistics

  • About 50% of the 2 billion prescriptions filled each year are not taken correctly.
  • One-third of patients take all their medicine, another third take some, and the final third don’t take any at all, meaning they never fill their prescriptions6.

Clearly, making a commitment to taking medications as directed can improve the outcomes associated with an illness. A few simple suggestions can help guide you in improving your ability to adhere to any medication program:

  • Educate yourself about the specific drugs you’re using and the expected results (and side effects).
  • Partner with your doctor to create treatment goals that offer you the best options for your care.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or pharmacist medication questions.

Along with medication compliance, a total approach to healthy living begins with a personal commitment to improving your lifestyle through better food choices, practicing some form of regular exercise, developing good sleep habits and enhancing your diet with nutritional supplements.


1. The New York Times June 2, 1998

2. Smith, D., Compliance Packaging; A Patient Education Tool, American Pharmacy, Vol. NS29, No 2 February 1989

3. Standberg, L.R., Drugs as a Reason for Nursing Home Admissions, American Health Care Association Journal, 10,20 (1984).

4. Schering Report IX The Forgetful Patient: The High Cost of Improper Patient Compliance.

5. Oregon Department of Human Resources, A study of Long-Term Care in Oregon with Emphasis on the Elderly March 1981.

6. Hayes, R.B.NCPIE Prescription Month, October 1989

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