Obstacles to Medication Adherence

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The treatment of chronic medical conditions usually involves the long-term use of medication. These medications can assist greatly with controlling the symptoms of disease and preventing future complications. Unfortunately, the full benefits of treatment are often not realized as many people do not take their medication as prescribed.

Missed doses and treatment breaks are problematic and can have serious health effects. Identifying and learning how to overcome some of the barriers to proper medication adherence is an important part of managing your condition well.


The management of your condition may feel overwhelming at times. You may have multiple pills to take and at various times of the day. Some of your medication may even need to be injected which can be uncomfortable, as well as inconvenient. If you feel that this may be a problem for you, don’t be afraid to speak up – chat to your doctor, pharmacist or clinic nurse about other options that may simplify your treatment regimen. For example, there might be ways to decrease the number of pills you need to take, or to take them all at the same time of the day. If you are struggling with painful injections, ensure that you are using the correct technique as this can minimize discomfort.


It can be challenging to motivate yourself to stick to your treatment plan if you are not sure of exactly what the benefits are, particularly with the pressures of everyday life. There are many misconceptions related to the management of chronic conditions. For example you may think that taking a pill once a day is still good enough, even though your doctor said you should take three. Or perhaps you believe that substituting your medication with your friend’s pills after you run out is an acceptable option. This kind of thinking can be dangerous in both the short-term and the long-term. Make a point of understanding your condition and the way in which it can be managed correctly. There is a lot of information out there which can be confusing, so speak to healthcare professionals such as your pharmacist or clinic nurse when you are not sure. Most importantly, don’t change your treatment dose or type of medication without checking with your doctor first.


Your medication is supposed to keep you healthy and make you feel better. So why do you sometimes feel worse after taking it? It is well known that medications can have side effects, and these can be different depending on the individual. Most side effects are mild and can be managed. If not, your doctor might consider changing you to a product that you tolerate better. Where side effects are severe, it is important that your treating doctor is aware and can assist you. Do not allow side effects to tempt you to skip or stop your treatment as this will have negative effects on the management of your condition.


Transportation to the pharmacy, standing in queues and getting your script renewed are all inconveniences that you may feel you just don’t have time for. Remember these words by Joyce Sunada, “If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness”. Prioritze the management of your condition so that you can maintain your health for as long as possible. Make use of services that increase convenience, such as medication delivery. If cost is a limiting factor for you, make sure that you are registered on your medical aid’s chronic benefit plan or speak to your doctor about a more cost-effective option.


You cannot think about chronic medication in the same way that you think about medicine for flu symptoms or an upset stomach. Some chronic conditions do not have symptoms until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage. This means that you may feel well even though there is something amiss. The medication that you need to take is designed to prevent the condition from worsening over time and may not change the way that you feel right now. Remember that just because you feel well, it doesn’t mean that you should not take your medication. If you are tempted to stop your treatment, speak to a healthcare provider first.


Written by Dr Jess Hamuy Blanco | Health Window


1.Gellad WF, Grenard JL, Marcum ZA. A systematic review of barriers to medication adherence in the elderly: looking beyond cost and regimen complexity. Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2011 Feb;9(1):11-23. doi: 10.1016/j.amjopharm.2011.02.004. 

2.Nelson LA, Wallston KA, Kripalani S, LeStourgeon LM, Williamson SE, Mayberry LS. Assessing barriers to diabetes medication adherence using the Information-Motivation-Behavioral skills model. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2018 Aug;142:374-384. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2018.05.046.

3.Brown MT, Bussell JK. Medication adherence: WHO cares? Mayo Clin Proc. 2011 Apr;86(4):304-14. doi: 10.4065/mcp.2010.0575.

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