Too many unfilled prescriptions reveal a troubling trend

When it comes to filling prescriptions for new medications, a new study finds that about one in four of us never actually complete the task. After analyzing approximately 425,000 CVS Caremark e-prescriptions for new drugs issued nationwide, researchers from the Brigham and Women s Hospital in Boston found that 24 percent of such scripts were never filled.

The study, just published in The American Journal of Medicine, also identified certain factors that made patients more likely to fill their prescriptions: if the scripts were directly submitted to the pharmacy rather than handed to them; if a medication was covered by a patient s insurance policy; and a higher income all contributed to a higher rate of prescriptions filled.

The study s lead author Dr. Michael Fischer thinks that part of the reason for patients noncompliance may be because doctors all too often do a poor job of explaining why patients should be taking an unfamiliar drug. It s also likely, says Dr. Fisher, that some patients such as those with high blood pressure don t believe they require treatment for a condition that is commonly asymptomatic.

One way to increase drug compliance, suggests ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, is for doctors to urge their patients to bring all of their medications with them when they come in for a visit. Since patients can actually lose track of all the medications they re taking, physicians can use this as a prime opportunity to educate them about the relevance of each to their health and, hopefully, increase compliance. Unfortunately, given the realities of modern clinical medicine, fewer primary care docs have the time to spend discussing such in-depth rationales.