Skipping Your Meds is Costly, Possibly Deadly

By Mona Chitre, Pharm.D.

Medication adherence is the fancy term for taking medications as directed. You might assume that patients always adhere to the instructions they’re given when it comes to their meds, but that’s not the case. According to the CDC, 20% to 30% of prescriptions are never filled, and of those that are, half are not taken as directed, including not following instructions about timing, dosage, frequency, or duration. 

Mona Chitre, Pharm.D.
Mona Chitre, Pharm.D.

That means, at best, just 40% of prescriptions are taken properly. 

Medication adherence is especially important for managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. According to the CDC, the majority of patients prescribed a medication for a chronic disease take less than prescribed, or stop taking it altogether, within six months. 

One missed dose may not be a big deal, but when missed doses begin to add up, your health can take a serious hit – even to the point of being deadly. The National Institutes of Health calculates that not taking medications as directed may result in 100,000 preventable deaths each year in the U.S. The American Heart Association puts the impact on health care spending at nearly $300 billion a year in additional doctor visits, emergency department visits and hospitalizations. There is also a cost to employers in lost earnings and lost productivity due to employee absence and underperformance due to illness or physical condition. 

Surveys conducted by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield revealed reasons why patients may not take their medications as prescribed. They may simply forget, misunderstand instructions, or decide they don’t need them any longer because they don’t have any symptoms. A medication may be too expensive, have undesirable side effects, or the instructions may be complex. 

We need to do better.  

Arranging for prescription home delivery, offered by many pharmacies, may increase medication adherence. Patients who are having trouble affording a medication can ask their physician or pharmacist if there is a lower cost generic version of the medication they need, or an approved alternative treatment that may cost less. Other tips include establishing a routine for taking medications, using pill box organizers, and downloading phone app reminders.

Statista, a global data and business intelligence platform, estimates that 4.9 billion retail prescriptions will be filled in the U.S. this year. When those medications are taken as directed, health outcomes improve, chronic conditions are managed, health care dollars are used efficiently, and lives are saved. 

Mona Chitre, Pharm.D., is chief pharmacy officer and president of pharmacy solutions at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. 

Melissa Klinko, (607) 723-0797 Ext. 3208,

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With about 4,500 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit


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