There is considerable variability in the manner in which prescriptions are written by physicians and transcribed by pharmacists, resulting in patient misunderstanding of label instructions. A universal medication schedule was recently proposed for standardizing prescribing practices to 4 daily time intervals, thereby helping patients simplify and safely use complex prescription regimens. We investigated whether patients consolidate their medications or whether there is evidence of unnecessary regimen complexity that would support standardization.
Structured interviews were conducted with 464 adults (age range, 55-74 years) who were receiving care either at an academic general medicine practice or at 1 of 3 federally qualified health centers in Chicago, Illinois. Participants were given a hypothetical, 7-drug medication regimen and asked to demonstrate how and when they would take all of the medications in a 24-hour period. The regimen could be consolidated into 4 dosing episodes per day. The primary outcome was the number of times per day that individuals would take medication. Root causes for patients complicating the regimen (>4 times a day) were examined.
Participants on average identified 6 times (SD, 1.8 times; range, 3-14 times) in 24 hours to take the 7 drugs. One-third of the participants (29.3%) dosed their medications 7 or more times per day, while only 14.9% organized the regimen into 4 or fewer times a day. In multivariable analysis, low literacy was an independent predictor of more times per day for dosing the regimen (β = 0.67; 95% confidence interval, 0.12-1.22; P = .02). Instructions for 2 of the drugs were identical, yet 31.0% of the participants did not take these medications at the same time. Another set of drugs had similar instructions, with the primary exception of 1 drug having the added instruction to take “with food and water.” Half of the participants (49.5%) took these medications at different times. When the medications had variable expressions of the same dose frequency (eg, “every 12 hours” vs “twice daily”), 79.0% of the participants did not consolidate the medications.
Many patients, especially those with limited literacy, do not consolidate prescription regimens in the most efficient manner, which could impede adherence. Standardized instructions proposed with the universal medication schedule and other task-centered strategies could potentially help patients routinely organize and take medication regimens.