The American Medical Association has found that one of many reasons a patient does not take their medication as you prescribe is because they do not understand the medicine. They don’t understand why they need it, how to properly store it, side effects, and even when to expect results.

One study found most patients interpret prescription labels incorrectly, while another study conducted by the same researchers found the labels and warnings given on the literature attached to a prescription was found to be useless to patients.

Patients trust you and your direction. And because they have many other responsibilities, they are not as concerned with understanding their medication. They simply want to follow your directions and wait for positive outcomes.

However, it is dangerous for your patients to not have a good understanding of the medicine you are prescribing. Many negative events can take place when they don’t understand. It is up to you to provide patients with the correct amount of education regarding their medicine.

Below are several steps you can take to prevent patients from experiencing adverse events involving their medication.


Teach Patients How the Medicine Will Help Them

Patients don’t often ask you why you are prescribing a specific medication. They tell you their symptoms and you develop a plan of action to treat their symptoms. They blindly take their medicine, without understanding how it will help them.

As their doctor, you can take a few minutes to explain exactly how the medicine should work inside their bodies. Patients are smart and they can understand your explanation of how a medicine works with the body and the brain to relieve their negative symptoms.


Teach Patients How to Properly Consume Medicine

Patients read “take one tablet orally every day” and they do just that. They take a pill by mouth one time a day, whenever they think about it. They do not have a specific routine, which can be necessary for some medicines to work best.

Tell your patients the best time of day to take their medicine. If a medicine causes drowsiness, taking it at bedtime may be most useful.

Tell them if they need to take it with food or on an empty stomach. Tell them if they need to avoid grapefruits or other foods that may decrease the potency of the medicine. Explain to them they cannot break, crush, liquify, snort, smoke or inject their medicines unless you instruct them to do so.

The more details you give a patient, the more covered you are in cases of adverse events that are caused by patient error.


Teach Patients How to Store Medications

If a medicine is supposed to be refrigerated but the patient does not do this due to lack of understanding this instruction, their medication will be less effective and can even cause a negative experience or reaction.

Make sure you inform patients the correct packaging, lighting, and temperature needed to keep medicine potent. For example, let the know that storing medicine in the backseat of a car on a 100-degree, hot day, will likely break down the chemicals in their medicine, making it less effective.


Teach Patients the Timeline for Medications

Many medicines do not start working overnight. It can take several weeks, even a month or more for some patients to start noticing a difference in symptoms. If your patients are expecting immediate results but don’t receive them, they may decide to stop taking the medicine, thinking it is not working.

Also teach patients what to expect and not expect when starting a medicine. Let them know side effects or symptoms that are considered normal and safe, as well as side effects that could mean trouble. They should also be made aware of what to do in times where negative side effects appear. Do they call you directly? Go to the emergency room?

Don’t make patients guess how they are supposed to handle medication reactions.


Teach Patients Using Multiple Formats

According to reports, one in eight people have some sort of vision loss. There are also many illiterate patients, who cannot read or write, and still others with learning disabilities.

Despite these obstacles, it is still your responsibility to make sure your patients understand their medications.

Find ways other than written material to help your patients learn about the prescriptions you offer. If someone has visual impairments, provide them with auditory solutions and make sure their caregivers or someone else in their family understands the medicine.

If someone cannot read well, provide them with a mentor or reading assistant. This is like what you already do when treating non-English speaking patients. You provide them with a translator. You can do the same with all your patients who need it.

Provide the materials in Braille, on flash drives, discs, or links to websites where they can obtain further teaching. Host medication understanding workshops free to your patients and caregivers. Do what it takes to provide education to all your patients, not just the ones who can read.


Teach Patients You Are Their Main Resource

Your patients may find it easy to go online and google their symptoms, treatment options, medicines, and more. While it is great, they have access to so much information, this can quickly create a bad outcome.

Much of the information online in not written by medical professionals. How many doctors do you know who truly have time to write blog after blog on the positives and negatives of medicine? Doctors hire writers or writing companies to provide content for their websites.

This becomes dangerous when the advice and information provided is not backed by valid studies and gives your patients the courage to become their own doctors. They may even discontinue use of their medicine based on a “story they heard”.

To avoid this, be accessible to your patients to answer questions about their medications. Implement services like in-office dispensing. Be the best resource for your patients to ensure they understand everything about the medication you prescribe.