This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle’s health section on May 22, 2013.
It might take more than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down for many Americans.
In a survey of more than 1,000 adult patients who are on prescription medication for chronic illnesses, 40 percent say they haven’t followed doctor’s instructions or have skipped taking their meds at least once in the past year. More than a quarter said they’ve stopped taking medications altogether or never even filled a prescription. It’s a problem known as medication nonadherence and is linked to 125,000 deaths in the United States each year.
“Taking medication is a daily reminder of your illness and your status as a ‘patient,’ so it’s a negative experience that people instinctively want to avoid,” wrote Dr. Katrina Firlik, co-founder and chief medical officer of HealthPrize, the company that conducted the survey and works on solutions to medication nonadherence. “Psychologically, people tend to prefer actions that offer short-term benefits, but most chronic medications provide no short-term benefits – only short-term annoyances.”
The biggest nonadherence culprits are Millennials, Americans ages 18 to 34. Women of all ages struggle more than men to follow doctor’s orders, and people of both genders report that they don’t always trust their doctor’s judgment.
Here are the numbers:
The percentage of Millennials who reported stopping their medications altogether or had never filled a prescription. Only 16 percent of people ages 65 and older reported doing these things. Researchers attribute young people’s high rates of nonadherence to feelings of invincibility and focus on a medication’s lack of short-term benefits.
The percentage of women who said they’ve quit taking medications or didn’t fill a prescription, compared with 20 percent of men who reported the same. Twenty percent of women also said they’re more likely to follow a prescription if it’s for a pet rather than for themselves.
The percentage of all survey respondents who said they don’t always trust their physicians or the medications they prescribe.
The percentage of respondents who said taking medication makes them feel old. Twenty-one percent said they worry when they take meds, and 10 percent said it reminds them of their illness and makes them feel sad.