pill box

What is medication compliance or adherence?

If you read about any kind of medical treatment or talk to doctors, you'll run across the term "compliance." This word is doctor-talk for whether the person follows the doctor's instructions. People who follow their doctor’s recommendations regarding medications and lifestyle are said to be "compliant" and those who don't are "noncompliant." Using the words “compliant” and “noncompliant” are shortcut ways of saying whether patients are really following the treatment plans or doing what the doctor asked.

Yet, the word compliance puts the focus on what the doctor says, and not what the person does. People feel that they are being "blamed" with the word compliance. This term also doesn’t consider all the different reasons why a person may not be able to take the medicines as prescribed.

The term "medication adherence" is a better term to describe if a person can adhere or keep to a certain schedule. It doesn’t have the blame or stigma attached to it.

Find medication tools to help reduce medication adherence problems.

Why is medication adherence important?

Medications will only work if they can be taken regularly. The brain needs a constant supply of seizure medicine to work to stop and prevent seizures. When doses are missed or the medicine is taken irregularly, you are at greater risk of having seizures. It also makes you more likely to have side effects. Instead of having a stable amount in your body, you’ll have lots of ups and downs. When the medicine level goes up, side effects will occur. When doses are missed and the level drops, seizures may occur.

There are many reasons for adherence problems, including memory problems, side effects, or instructions that are too complicated. When any of these occur, it’s critical that the reasons are sorted out and easier ways of taking medicine are found. It’s the only way you can help the medicine work for you every day.

How can I learn about medication adherence?

Take an active part in making decisions about your care. A good example is how to manage rescue therapies and medications. Medication adherence is a big part of being actively involved in your health care. To get started learning whether adherence is a problem for you...

  • Use a seizure diary and write down every time you miss a dose of medicine or take an extra by mistake.
  • In the online My Seizure Diary or Texting 4 Control, you can note electronically when meds are missed and what happens.
  • Have electronic reminders, via text or email, sent to you when it's time for a dose of medicine. Both these options are available with My Seizure Diary or Texting 4 Control.
  • Make sure you write down when seizures occur or when side effects are noticed.
  • Now you can look at what happens when you miss a dose, take an extra one, or just have problems following the recommended amount.
  • Compare how often you have seizures or side effects when adherence is a problem versus when you are doing well following your schedule.
  • Next, write down possible reasons for why you are having trouble with your medicine schedule. Then you can target the reason and correct it!

Stay tuned for steps to make managing medications a lot easier.

Authored By: 
Steven C. Schachter, MD
Joyce A. Cramer, BS
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Thursday, November 7, 2013