Student-Led Initiative Aims to Save Billions in Avoidable Healthcare Costs


Three out of four people do not take their prescription medication as directed, and one out of three people never fill their prescriptions according to a national group that tracks such things.  So several schools of health professionals, including students from the University of Charleston pharmacy school, are trying to increase awareness about the issue.

At a senior center in Ravenswood, students from the University of Charleston pharmacy school are holding a health fair. Betty Smith, an 80-year-old participant is getting her blood sugar checked. She says she isn’t a diabetic, but still likes to get her blood sugar tested. The health fair is the easiest way to do that since the students come to her and services they offer (at this fair they are testing blood pressure too) are free.

The fair is just one of 23 events the UC pharmacy students have held over the past two months as part of Script Your Future – a nationwide medication adherence campaign.

The campaign also includes seminars on yoga for disease management, healthy meal planning for disease management, and a Run for Women’s Health 5k. This is the fourth year UC pharmacy school students have participated in the campaign. The fair in Ravenswood is an alternative spring break trip for the students.

Karrie Juengel is an assistant professor at the UC school of pharmacy. She says medication non-adherence is “not taking your medications as prescribed. That can include not taking your medications at all, splitting your medications in half even though you aren’t supposed to, skipping a day because you are trying to save money because you are trying to save money – even storing your medications in the wrong place.”

Such as a bathroom – which Juengel says is too humid for most medications. (Room temperature is usually ideal.)

Meilssa Buse is a fourth year UC pharmacy student. She says there are four main reasons people don’t take medications as prescribed: (1) they don’t understand how medication works; (2) they’re worried about side effects; (3) they can’t afford prescriptions; and (4) they forget to take their medications.

The result?

“Poor medication adherence actually has a huge financial implication in the United States every year and it gets into the billions of dollars,” she says.

To be more exact, about 290 billion dollars are spent each year in avoidable healthcare costs related to medication non-adherence (i.e., emergency department visits, hospitalizations and pharmacy costs), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also causes about 125,000 deaths a year, according to a 2012 study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Buse says she thinks that’s because a lot of patients are afraid to ask questions of their doctors or pharmacist because they often feel their medical provider doesn’t have time for them.

“So then they don’t really know what to expect from their medications or don’t know how important it is to take their medications so they don’t do it,” she says.

She says if a patient can’t afford a medication or feels like what they’re taking isn’t working they should talk to their doctor or pharmacist – not just stop taking it.

Research published late last year for the national Script Your Future campaign found that improved communication between patients and healthcare providers does lead to more patients taking prescribed medications as directed.  

Appalachia Helth News

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation.