Is Medication Compliance an Issue? Think Outside the Pillbox

Assortment of pills in pill box and scattered on tableDo you take medication for a chronic condition? If so, chances are you’re not happy about it. In fact, you might be partially compliant or noncompliant with your doctor’s orders. Most people would rather not be reliant on medication for their physical or mental health, and who can blame them? Not too many people want to take pills.

Did you know that 31% of all prescriptions issued are not filled the first time (Intelicare, 2016)? Half of all patients do not take their medication as prescribed, and adherence is lowest among people with chronic illness. Want another eye-opening statistic? Nonadherence costs our health care system over $300 billion annually, as emergency room visits and hospital stays increase with medication noncompliance (Prescriptions, 2016).

Not only is nonadherence costly, poor medication compliance or total noncompliance limits the effective management and control of chronic illnesses. In the United States, some 3.8 billion prescriptions are written every year, yet more than 50% of them are taken incorrectly or not at all (Medscape, 2014). The most harmful result of nonadherence? Nearly 125,000 deaths annually (Intelicare, 2016).

So let’s talk about why some people do not adhere to their medication regimens. The most widely reported barrier for noncompliance is forgetfulness. However, lack of knowledge about the medication and its use seems to be a major factor: “Up to 20% failed to take medications because of perceived side effects, 17% had cost issues, and 14% didn’t feel the need to take medication; they believed it would have little or no effect on their disease” (Medscape, 2014).

There might also be cultural, health, and/or religious beliefs about the medication. Other factors include denial or ambivalence regarding the state of one’s health, financial challenges, lack of health literacy, and lack of social support (Medscape, 2014). Some people may have trouble managing all of their prescriptions (“polypharmacy”) or have difficulty navigating the health care system. And let’s not forget possible underlying depression due to the chronic illness that can interfere with compliance and motivation.

Simplified drug regimens, patient education, and pharmaceutical counseling are just a few ideas to increase medication compliance.

Does any of this resonate with you? There are many reasons for noncompliance, but let’s start that conversation with you. Have you asked yourself: Why am I noncompliant with my treatment plan? What are the barriers to my medication adherence? What would it take for me to be more adherent to my treatment plan?

Research also has something to report about improving adherence. Simplified drug regimens, patient education, and pharmaceutical counseling are just a few ideas to increase medication compliance (NEHI, 2009). But those suggestions are mostly the responsibility of the doctors and pharmacists. What are some ways you can empower yourself in your treatment plan and adherence?

  1. Ask for information on your diagnosis and treatment plan. This will help you better understand what the diagnosis means and how it will be treated. Be sure to ask questions and make sure you understand confusing medical terms.
  2. Ask for education on the medication you are prescribed. The chance is higher for nonadherence if you don’t understand why that particular drug was prescribed, its side effects, and how often it should be taken. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain the prescription.
  3. Ask about your options. Maybe you’ve tried a similar medication with negative side effects, or you’ve done some concrete research on a certain drug. Don’t be afraid to ask what other medications are available to you.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, confused, or depressed about taking medication, you are not alone. But the cost, both physical and financial, is too high to ignore. Ask your doctor any questions you might have so you’re clear on and invested in the treatment, and work together to devise a plan that may help you be more adherent.


  1. Intelicare. (2016). Focused on Increasing Medical Adherence. Retrieved from
  2. Medscape. (2014). Why Are So Many Patients Non-compliant? Retrieved from
  3. NEHI. (2009). Thinking Outside the Pillbox. Retrieved from
  4. Prescriptions for a Healthy America. (2016). Medication Adherence: A $300 Billion Problem. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, Health / Illness / Medical Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Blake

    March 15th, 2016 at 10:04 AM

    My mother takes at least 6 different prescriptions on a daily basis. I fix all of her meds for the week but there are still some weeks when she takes exactly what she is supposed to and then there are others when she completely ignores what I have dispensed. It is a never ending cycle between me fussing at her and her doing okay for a while and the she will stop. I can’t be there every day to give it to her so any suggestions for how to deal with that are greatly appreciated.

  • Andrea Risi

    March 16th, 2016 at 2:47 PM

    You’re in a difficult position Blake and this is why many adult children feel helpless. We care about our parents and want to make sure they’re getting the best out of their treatment but we can’t control everything. Is there someone (friend, home health care nurse, etc.) who could check in on your mother on a daily basis?

  • Lillian

    March 15th, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    do you think that she forgets to take it or is she being defiant, like she doesn’t need it?
    if she’s forgetting is there someone else who could be in charge of going there daily to give her the pills?

  • kathlyn

    March 16th, 2016 at 7:51 AM

    I remember vividly being told by a doctor that this medication was the end all and be all and it was far from it for me. It caused me so many other symptoms that I just basically told him that I refused to take it anymore. He helped me find several other alternatives to try and they have worked beautifully. I think that there has to be more of us willing to stick up for ourselves. We know what is good for u and what is not and it is ok to voice those concerns.

  • Andrea Risi

    March 16th, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    I agree Kathlyn, we know our bodies better than anyone! It’s always ok to talk with your doc about the medication and ask for other options.

  • Marcia

    March 17th, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    The thing is I think that there are a lot of people who are intimidated by their doctors for various reasons and they would never even think to speak up and as for something different. We have been trained to think that the doctor always knows best so we never even question it, or even if we want to question it, we don’t feel comfortable doing so.

  • Carl

    March 18th, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    I am pretty much of the mindset that yes I want to try anything that I can before I automatically agree to take a medication but at a certain point there is only so much that I can do and beyond that I have to look for any other alternatives that could help me. I know that this is not what others might want to hear but for me it is what makes the most sense to me. I think that for the most part medical doctors know what they are doing when they prescribe something for me and in the end if it extends the length of my life and the quality too then I will comply for as long as I can.

  • andi

    March 21st, 2016 at 10:46 AM

    Scares me that I may one day have to rely on a medicine that would keep me alive.

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