Chronic medication – are you taking it as prescribed?

When we’re ill, more than half of us don’t follow the instructions that come with our chronic medication.


Alarmingly in developed countries, taking long-term therapy for chronic illnesses exactly as prescribed averages only 50%. In developing countries like South Africa, the rates are even lower. Fedhealth says this may be due to a variety of reasons, medicine non-compliance isn’t a simple matter, but, not taking your medicine as prescribed can be extremely dangerous.


Medical complications, unnecessary hospitalisations, delayed recovery, increased healthcare costs and, even death, can be the effects of non-compliance. Often people stop taking their medication when they become symptom-free. Often symptoms then return – sometimes worse than before. People with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are known for stopping their medication once the symptoms of their condition improve. Unfortunately, this can have a dramatic effect on the person’s social, emotional and physical wellbeing. Medicine non-compliance can also have economic consequences – not just because of possible hospitalisation costs, but because medicines may become less effective. This may lead to added medication and additional out-of-hospital healthcare costs. And, of course, not taking your medicine correctly can result in toxic – and even life-threatening – side effects.


So what can you do to better adhere to your prescriptions? Fedhealth offers the following tips:


  • Keep a list of all your medications handy. Consider giving a copy of this list to a family member or caregiver and take one with you when you’re travelling.
  • Know what you’re taking and why you’re taking it. Ask your doctor for more information if there’s something you don’t understand or give them a follow-up phone call if you can’t remember the exact instructions. Questions you might consider asking include: when is the best time to take your medication; can it be taken in conjunction with other medications; are there possible side effects; are there any foods or drinks that should be avoided while taking the medication etc.
  • Set up reminders on your cell phone and create a schedule or calendar.
  • Combine your taking of medication with another regular activity, such as brushing your teeth.
  • Use a pillbox indicating the days of the week.
  • Plan ahead for refills or travel and make a mental note to pack your medication first when you’re going to travel.
  • Keep your follow-up appointments. Ask your doctor to send you a reminder a day or two in advance.
  • Consider taking a family member or friend to your follow-up appointments. They could take notes of what the doctor advises, possibly remind you of side effects or other issues you might have forgotten and can help you read and understand package inserts if you have trouble reading.


If you are taking long-term chronic medication it needs to become part of your lifestyle, says Fedhealth. While it may seem like an inconvenience you need to remind yourself that the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience factor. If you get to a point where you believe you may no longer need the medication, speak to your doctor first before attempting to take yourself off the medication.