I was upset yesterday after a conversation with my uncle. He’s in his seventies and my aunt is in her sixties. Both have health issues and must take medications on a regular basis to lead a good quality life. Not saying there are no hiccups—but taking the prescribed medication and following doctor’s advice minimize the chances of emergency situations.
As we caught up with the latest news and yeah, okay, gossip, the discussion turned to health issues. Of course he asked me whether I was looking after myself. Diabetes, you know! Also, you never know what can crop up in spite of doing the right things.
Then we moved on to his and my aunt’s health. I got progressively annoyed when he laughed off my questions about whether he was following his doctor’s instructions about his diet. When I asked him if he was at least taking his medicines on time, he shrugged it off. And I got madder when my aunt joined him in the careless laughter.
I thought back to my Mom, and my Grandmom, who were both sticklers for discipline, especially when it came to health.
Here is the thing: my uncle really has no reason to doubt the validity of his doctor’s diagnosis, prescription, and treatment plan—but still fails to follow through on their recommendations; then how can he get full value of their professional knowledge and experience? What’s the use of blaming them if there’s no progress? Worst of all, why the apathy?
While he was not intentionally defying his doctor’s orders, there is one common problem most patients face, and that is: taking the wrong medications, taking them at the wrong times, or taking the wrong dosage.
How to help him overcome this? I thought of two ways, inspired by my Mom.
What my Mom did, while taking her medicines was:
Use a pill identifier
When you have a variety of different medications but you are confused about what pills are in the medicine cabinet, a pill identifier with pictures to identify their names and uses is a good idea.
A pill identifier can also provide you with the information you need to know about correct dosages, side-effects, interactions, and warnings.
Make a list
If not sure which medications you should be taking, do the following:
- Make a list of everything you have available. Besides prescription medication, list vitamins and minerals, herbal supplements, and over-the-counter drugs.
- Next, make a list of questions you want to ask your doctor. I believe this is the most important thing. In fact, keep a little notebook in your medical file where you can jot down your own questions as well as the doctor’s advice. This always saves time and ensures that you don’t forget to ask the doctor, helping you maximize the consultation time with the doctor. I have experienced far too many times that feeling of numbness in the head from waiting at the doctor’s clinic for hours, only to find that when our turn came, our minds were blank and we would forget to ask half the things we wanted to, and be too scared to call the doc later.
- Finally, and obviously, make an appointment to see your doctor. Even if it means waiting a bit.
When I earnestly explained to my uncle how his sister managed her medications and health, he coolly provoked me, asking, what is the worst that could happen? I didn’t bother answering. I have heard that way too many times growing up. He would love to vary that with “There is nothing so bad that cannot be worse”. Yeah right, for a growing kid, but not now, not in this context, because…
…there is always the risk of noncompliance.
In fact, an article in Making Health Care Systems Work titled Ignoring Doctor’s Orders: The High Cost of Noncompliance, reveals some alarming statistics: “Poor medication compliance is to blame for about 125,000 deaths per year, as well 10 percent of hospital and 23 percent of nursing home admissions.”
Why would one not follow doctor’s instructions? The consequences can be dire, and sometimes fatal. Many people with treatable illnesses get worse because they didn’t take their medications as prescribed or didn’t take them at all.
Sometimes patients intentionally disregard medical advice, sometimes they unintentionally make mistakes, forgetting to take medications on time or misunderstanding the directions. They think it is quite okay to miss a dose, and sometimes, catch up on their dose.
Additionally, patients may fail to comply because they find the treatment isn’t working, because they experience side effects, or because they are self-medicating on some alternative treatment plan they read online. Ugh!
While it’s fairly obvious that you should follow your doctor’s instructions if you’re currently sick, many patients don’t fully understand what it is that they are supposed to do when they get well. Strange, eh? Unless, your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, stating that you no longer need to take your medications, it’s still important to follow their instructions even if you appear to have fully recovered your health.
I’ve seen that patients who have undergone surgery don’t take their medication at all post-surgery because they don’t like the discomfort of the side effects. It can also take some time to start feeling more normal after surgery and patients simply forget to take them. Yes, I’ve experienced that!
Then there are patients who reduce their medications despite being ill because they don’t feel the medications are working at all or have decided to self-medicate with some herbal or dietary alternatives.
However, regardless of your reasons for not taking your medications at all or reducing how much you’re taking, this is the wrong approach. Instead, if side effects bother you, speak to your doctor. They may either change the prescription or lower the dosage. I mean, if you don’t tell your doctor, how will she know?
There is, however, the chance that your doctor is unwilling to change your medications. Sometimes it’s because the benefits of the course of treatment far outweigh the minor discomfort of the side effects or because these side effects will go away after some time. My Mom went through this when she had TB.
Don’t Jeopardize Your Health
Although doctors are careful to prescribe the right medications and dosages and pharmacists are diligent in following prescriptions, it’s entirely up to you to follow directions. Sometimes, careless errors in what medication to take, when to take them and how to take them (say, on an empty or full stomach) can result in some severe consequences.
While taking the right medications will make a difference, it goes without saying that you must pay attention to your diet, exercise regularly—because medications alone will not help. Eating healthy, nutritious meals is another aspect of doing your best to improve your own health.
The combination of following up on doctor’s orders, focusing on good nutrition, and pursuing some physical activity will help you stay at a healthy weight. Healthy routines will also reduce the risk of succumbing to heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, and other chronic disease.
So, if you or a loved one is on medication, do me a favor. Follow doctor’s orders and take your medications exactly as described. And of course, remember that there are also many other ways to significantly improve your overall health, too.
I feel so much better now for having said all this, even though I know I’ve been repetitive!
What is your reaction? Tell me in the comments!