Educate patients on medication instructions

I often hear patients asking, “Why am I taking this medicine?” Whether it’s a drug prescribed by a primary care physician, specialist, or emergency medicine provider, this question should be answered and understood by all patients. Prescription labels for medications taken as needed usually include the indication for use, but prescriptions for chronic conditions generally do not. This information is especially important when patients are taking multiple medications. The problem comes down to health literacy.

Studies have shown that over 75% of patients do not understand prescription label directions, and some patients stop taking medications if they do not know why they are prescribed.1 This lack of information is a source of frustration for patients, their caregivers / families and providers. Many older patients in my practice ask me about their medications. After explaining the indication of each medication, I write the reason for the prescription on the bottle with a marker if they have their medication with them or I indicate the information on their papers. Simply writing down the purpose of the medication helps patients understand why the agent is important to their health and serves as a reminder over time.

Not understanding the “why” can affect a patient’s willingness to take the medications they need. Non-adherence to medications affects quality of life and results in more than $ 100 billion in preventable hospitalizations.2 Not knowing the “why” can lead to chronic disease exacerbations resulting in multiple visits or hospitalizations to the emergency room / department, as well as increased time spent by office staff and / or pharmacy staff responding. questions from patients. To help reduce this burden, the Institute of Medicine encourages standardization of prescription instructions for use as the drug label is a key source of information for patients.3 This practice can save time, confusion, and money for patients, families, providers, pharmacists, hospitals, and insurance companies.


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Nurse practitioners (NPs) can lead this transformation in their practice. The realization that patients need information about the purpose of their medications is necessary for change to begin. After discussing this need with patients, colleagues, and support staff, the indication for use of each drug can be written on all patient’s prescriptions. This act will serve as a “why” reminder and help patients take control of their health care.

Karen A. Bocchicchio MSN, FNP-C, APN-C, is a practicing clinician as well as a senior clinician in a primary care office at Penn Medicine in New Jersey. She is a clinical nursing assistant for student nurse practitioners at Rowan University. She is also pursuing her DNP at Rutgers University.

The references

1. Davis TC, Federman AD, Bass PF 3rd, et al. Improve patient understanding of prescription drug label instructions. J Gen Med Intern. 2009; 24 (1): 57-62. doi: 10.1007 / s11606-008-0833-4

2. Cutler DM, Everett W. Thinking Outside the Pill Box – Medication Adherence as a Priority for Health Care Reform. N English J Med. 2010; 362 (17): 1553-1555. doi: 10.1056 / NEJMp1002305

3. Institute of Medicine. Standardizing Drug Labels: Less Confusion for Patients: Workshop Summary. The press of the national academies; 2008. https://doi.org/10.17226/12077.

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