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Most patients don’t fully understand the medication and instructions provided during the doctor’s consultation. This can lead to some serious consequences: medication errors, avoidable health threats, worsening medical conditions or hospitalization.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines patient safety as “the prevention of errors and adverse effects to patients associated with healthcare” and “to do no harm to patients”. The escalating problem of chronic conditions is becoming a healthcare burden in many countries due to the increasing proportion of elderly people. Most patients don’t fully understand the medication and instructions provided during the doctor’s consultation. This can lead to some serious consequences: medication errors, avoidable health threats, worsening medical conditions or hospitalization.
The reasons why patients do not take their medications correctly are manifold. Some of these factors are lack of health literacy, misunderstanding of prescription, the high number of drugs to be taken (especially patients on multiple medications), forgetfulness, and reduction of symptoms. Additionally, low health literacy impacts society and individual patients more than factors like age, income, employment status and education level.
Adherence to medication is a major factor in determining treatment outcomes for patients. In India, this is particularly true in the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Poor or a lack of medication adherence can lead to unnecessary disease progression and complications, more medical costs and physician visits, increased use of expensive, specialized medical resources and unnecessary medication changes. It is disheartening to note that costs incurred due to non-adherence to medication often exceeds the healthcare costs and this includes the cost of managing complications arising due to non-adherence. For instance, if a patient with diabetes fails to take his medication regularly, he or she can possibly suffer from long-term consequences of diabetes such as kidney damage, for which the cost and duration of treatment is a lot longer and far more challenging.
Post-medical consultation, a few measures that patients can keep in mind are: to discuss with their doctor a treatment regime that suits them, ask questions if they have not understood something or have any concerns, keeping a “medicine calendar” with pill bottles and noting each time you take a dose, to help enhance medication adherence. With the digital world encompassing us every step of the way, setting an alarm clock on the cell phone for reminders to take medicines can also help patients. Lastly, consult the doctor without delay on what to do when a dose is missed or if one experiences any kind of side effects.
We must also understand, that the patient is not solely responsible for the treatment regime. It is important that the patient is well informed, understands the doctor’s recommendations, feels that they are being well looked after, and can express any concerns freely and will be taken seriously. The doctor plays an important role and should counsel the patient on the disease management, suggest Do’s and Don’ts for the patient’s health condition, explain the importance of medication adherence for a better outcome, and encourage reporting of the side effects/ adverse events of the drug.
Patient Safety is a two-way process. It is important to understand that for the medication to be effective, it must be taken correctly. Adherence to medication is a major factor in determining treatment outcomes for patients.
Medical service providers can help in the assessment of the patient’s non-adherence, patient education and sending reminders through digital or web-based tools. A sustained and coordinated effort between the parties involved i.e. the patients, doctors, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies, will ensure optimal medication adherence and realization of the full benefits of the therapies used for treatment.