Health care providers prescribe medications hundreds of times each week, but to a person newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, hearing “I want you to take ____” is a public admission of failure. Failure to lose weight. Not making time for exercise. Inability to change habits like flavored coffee for breakfast or a favorite aunt’s cinnamon buns during family gatherings.
For many people with diabetes , a prescription for oral medication or even worse – insulin – is a sure signal that amputation, blindness, renal failure and death is just around the corner. Often too shocked, scared, or angry to ask questions, your patient leaves your office with prescription in hand but never fills it. Or they fill it, but decide they won’t take it because they hope to make the lifestyle changes that they’ve been putting off for months or years. Sometimes they fill the script but only take the medication when they remember, or when no one else is around so they don’t have to admit they have diabetes, or when they feel like their blood sugar is high.
Here are 5 important strategies we’ve found successful in empowering and motivating people with type 2 diabetes to take their meds as prescribed:
1. WIFM: What’s In It For Me. Explain why the medication is necessary both for short-term management of diabetes as well as prevention of long-term complications. Talk about how the med will address how the person feels on a daily basis, addressing any complaints they talked about during their examination.
2. Describe how the medication works in easily understandable language and provide clear, easy to understand written materials. Often newly diagnosed people with diabetes don’t know the difference between oral meds and insulin, or that oral meds work in a variety of ways. If you don’t provide written information, many people go home and do a Google search which may lead them to inaccurate information or promises of ‘natural’ cures.
3. Talk about possible side effects and how to minimize them. Ask what side effects they’ve heard about, or which ones concern them the most. Weight gain or inability to lose weight and fear of hypoglycemia are two of the most common fears.
4. Know the cost of the medication and if the insurance plan will cover it. People often don’t want to admit that they can’t afford a medication, and take it less often than prescribed or won’t refill the script.
5. Ask open-ended questions that show you are listening to their fears and that you’re working together to improve their health. Examples of questions to encourage an open discussion:
a. How will you manage taking this medication? What is your usual routine for taking medication and how will you add this med to your routine?
b. What have you heard from your family, friends or other people with diabetes about this medication?
c. What might get in the way of taking this med?
If you don’t have time to explain how the medication works and answer questions, assign this task to another member of your health care team. Tell your patient why you’re prescribing the medication and that you will have them meet with this professional to explain how to take the medication and answer all their questions.
We often label people with diabetes non-compliant when they don’t follow-through with prescribed medications. Non-compliance is like an onion: peel away the layers until you find the actual reason why your patient didn’t fill the script or ‘forgets’ to take the med. We can’t assume that people with diabetes take their meds as prescribed, and we also can’t assume that we know why they don’t take their medications. The only way to find out the truth is to have an open and honest discussion.
Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, CPT, CWC
Medication Adherence. Its Importance in Cardiovascular Outcomes. Ho PM, Bryson CL, Rumsfeld JS. Circulation. 2009; 119: 3028-3035.
Working With Patients to Enhance Medication Adherence. Lin EHB, Ciechanowski P. Clinical Diabetes January 2008 vol. 26 no. 1 17-19.