How to Make Your Medications & Supplements More Effective

by Eric Everett, B.J., B.Sc. Pharm, FIACP, CCN

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, over 50% of the 1.8 billion prescriptions written annually are taken incorrectly, and an estimated 30-50% of written prescriptions fail to produce results. And a report by the Department of Health and Human Services in 1990 found that 48% of the U.S. population and 55% of the elderly fail to comply in some way with their medication regimens. This occurs in spite of the best efforts of pharmacists, doctors and nurses to be sure patients take their medications correctly for optimum results. But what about natural supplements and other alternative therapies for achieving and maintaining health? Efforts and information used to ensure proper use of supplements is much more scarce and, according to some experts, just as important. Many more people take supplements as a means to enhance and protect their health, but inappropriate use will often defeat the purpose and waste money.

There are several ways prescription and supplement noncompliance can occur:

Yet many people rely on inaccurate information, often from self-proclaimed experts, for the selection and dosing of their supplements. And although side effects from natural supplements are infrequent, the patient is disillusioned when the desired results are not attained.

Many conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are considered “silent killers” because the patient may not even know they have the disease. Because of this, they never get help, take their medication or supplements irregularly or never take them at all because they do not notice a difference in the way they feel.

Depression is another chronic problem in our society. However, it was found that 59% of patients stopped taking their medication before it could have taken effect. It would seem analogous that premature discontinuation further complicates the inappropriate use of natural supplements as well. This is especially true when you consider there is often no recognized professional urging the patient to take their supplements regularly and correctly.

Nationally recognized compliance experts stated “Taking today’s pharmaceutical products is like driving a car in a country where there are no driving laws, no customer service representative, and no mechanics. Pharmaceutical development has outpaced society’s ability to use its products.”

The same could easily be said for supplements. Increased awareness of the benefits of integrative medicine, especially in the arena of supplements and herbs, has outpaced the ability of legitimate experts to recommend the correct supplement at the correct dose, and to enforce the importance of compliance. And as a bonus barricade, you can throw in the variable of low-quality and unscrupulous products. Although prescription medications are well-monitored for products that do not meet specifications, patients taking supplements are admonished to remember “Buyer be ware.”

It is important to find an expert you can rely on for both products and information. High-quality products, accurate and scientific information, and the willingness of the patient to adhere to instructions are all imperative for positive outcomes.

And it has been shown in several studies that pill organizers greatly increase patient compliance with their medication program. They conveniently organize each dose and make it easy to see if a dose has been missed. That is why we recommend organizers to all of our patients at O’Brien Pharmacy, young and old, and stress the importance of compliance.

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