Patients prescribed medication for long term illness rapidly stop taking their medicines

Many patients prescribed a medicine for a long term condition, such as asthma or heart disease, rapidly stop taking their medicines as prescribed, reveals research in Quality and Safety in Health Care.

Most patients reported problems with their medicine. They have a significant unmet need for further information about their treatment and/or its side effects, which doctors are failing to address, the findings suggest.

Just under 250 patients from 23 community pharmacies in southern England took part in the study. All had a long term condition. These included asthma, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The patients were surveyed by questionnaire and by telephone, 10 days and a month after starting a new long term treatment.

Almost a third of patients,10 days after diagnosis, and one in four, a month after diagnosis, were not taking the new medicines as prescribed. This included not taking the right dose, and/or at the right time, and/or at the right frequency. Half of this non-compliance was deliberate at both time points.

Two thirds of those still taking their medicines after 10 days said they had a problem with it. And almost the same percentage expressed a "substantial and sustained need" for further information. By four weeks, this still applied to half of those surveyed.

Current prescribing and dispensing processes could be much more effective, the authors venture, while patients cannot foresee what problems they will have until they start taking their drugs.

They suggest that the NHS should create a new service which would advise and support patients about treatment during the early phase of a long term condition.

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