Renew’s Checkup Challenge: Are you on top of your medications?

Whether you’re putting up with side effects or aren’t taking your prescriptions regularly at all, Day 6 of our challenge will help you get a better handle on how you’re approaching your treatment plan — so that you can help feel your best.

Nancy Fitzgerald
Person taking pills from a bottle and putting them into an organizer

The Renew Checkup Challenge is here to help you take charge of your health in a new way. Over 7 days, you’ll prepare for your next annual wellness visit, learn how to build a stronger relationship with your provider and become a better advocate for your health. Because no one ever said you had to take the changes that can come with getting older sitting down.

Chronic conditions certainly aren’t a given as you get older, but they do become more common. The National Institute on Aging reports that about 85% of older adults have at least one condition that’s likely to stick around for a while — and more than half have at least two.

That includes everything from diabetes to cancer, asthma to arthritis. If you’ve got a chronic condition, it’s likely that you’re taking medication to help keep it under control. Researchers found that nearly 90% of older adults were taking anywhere from 1 to 5 pills every single day, according to a 2016 report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Lucky thing, too: Medication can play an important role in helping to keep you healthy and active.

That’s the good news. But there’s also some bad news: Only about half of people whose providers prescribe medications for chronic conditions continue taking those medications over the long haul. And many never even get the prescriptions filled, according to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in 3 Americans have high blood pressure, for example, but only about half of them have the condition under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though the medications can be super effective, people often stop taking them because of uncomfortable side effects like weakness or a dry cough.

“A lot of chronic conditions can leave you feeling sluggish, with no energy, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Gabriela Cipriano, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice at Wegmans School of Pharmacy, St. John Fisher College, in Rochester, New York. “If you take your medications, the benefits can be tremendous, right now and for the long term.”

 

The more you know, the easier it is to stay on top of your medications. So for today’s Checkup Challenge, we invite you to put your medication knowledge to the test. You can see if you’re on top of taking your medication — or if some small changes could help you live a healthier, happier, more active life.

All these questions are in your Checkup Challenge Activity Guide (download a copy here). Jot down your answers there. When you’re done, be sure to share your results with your primary care provider (PCP) at your next checkup. It’s the perfect way to jump-start a conversation about how you’re feeling about your treatment plan.

Download your Annual Care Checklist today
This list of important health topics can help get the conversation started with your PCP during your annual wellness visit. UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage members can sign in or register on your MyUHCMedicare.com, click on Health & Wellness then search Annaul Care Checklist. Not a member? Learn more here.

Now let’s get started.

  1. When my provider gives me a new prescription…
    1. I have it filled and start taking it right away.
    2. I do some reading to learn more about it.
    3. I check in first with friends and relatives.
  2. To fill my prescriptions, I use …
    1. My neighborhood pharmacy — the same one every time.
    2. The pharmacy with the best prices — I like to shop around.
    3. An online retailer or home-delivery option.
  3. If I’m taking any other medications …
    1. I show my provider a list of all my prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, supplements and vitamins.
    2. I can never remember the names of my other medications.
    3. I don’t mention it — after all, medications are all safe.
  4. When I start a new medication, I learn about possible side effects by …
    1. Talking to the pharmacist.
    2. Asking my friends who take the same drug.
    3. Checking in on social media.
  5. If I experience side effects from a brand-new prescription, I call my provider when …
    1. The effects are severe, like frequent vomiting or a bad headache.
    2. The effects are mild — maybe I feel a bit off.
    3. I just try to tough it out.
  6. If one medication doesn’t work …
    1. I ask my provider about other options.
    2. I keep taking it for a year to see what happens.
    3. I stop taking it without telling the provider.

Scoring: Give yourself 10 points for each time you answered “a,” 5 points for each “b,” and 1 point for each “c.”

50–60 points: You’re a pro at taking your medications

Great job — you’re doing just what you’re supposed to do. You stay in touch with your PCP about everything from pesky side effects to major adverse reactions. And you never decide to stop or change your medication without speaking with your provider first. Plus, you rarely miss a dose. After all, says Cipriano, “Timing is important. You have to take your medication consistently and on schedule as prescribed and instructed for it to do its job.”

Keep up the good work and be sure to ask for a comprehensive medication review each year with your PCP or pharmacist. Learn more about why it’s so important here.

30–49 points: You’re on the right track

When it comes to medication, knowledge is power. Put the power of your prescription to work by trying these tips:

  • Rely on experts. Instead of asking friends and relatives for advice, count on your provider or pharmacist for accurate information. “Your body may respond differently than your cousin’s does to the same medication,” Cipriano explains. “That’s because the way your body breaks down the medicine is not the same.”
  • Stick with one pharmacy. And make sure your pharmacist knows all your allergies and/or other medications you’re taking, Cipriano says. That includes over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements. Going from store to store might save you a little, but it can lead to big problems, especially when the pharmacists don’t know your whole history.

6–29 points: Time to learn more about your medications

The more you know about your prescriptions, the more they’ll help you. Try these strategies:

  • Beware of getting information from social media posts. Instead, turn to reliable sources. Your best bets: your PCP or pharmacist or the package insert that comes with your prescription. Researching medications online? Use trusted sites, like those offered by hospitals, universities and health systems.
  • Don’t change your dose (or stop a medication) on your own. If you think your prescription isn’t working, talk to your provider or pharmacist. “It can take time to find the right dose,” says Cipriano. Sometimes you won’t be able to feel the medication’s effects, she says. You may need to monitor your blood pressure or sugar levels at home, for instance, or visit your provider for lab work.
  • If you experience mild side effects right off the bat, don’t panic. Often, they go away when your body adjusts to the medication, says Cipriano. But if they last, it may be a sign that your body isn’t tolerating the medication. If, for example, you’re still feeling nauseous or sleepy after a few weeks, speak up. “Most of the time, there’s more than one medicine to treat your condition, and another one just might do the trick,” says Cipriano.
  • On a budget? Don’t stop taking medication because it’s too expensive. Instead, talk to your provider. They may be able to prescribe one that does the same job but costs less. That’s another good reason to stay in touch.

There’s one last tip that can help everyone stay on their treatment plan — sign up for a 3-month supply at your network retail pharmacy or through home delivery. UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plan members can find pharmacies that offer a 3-month supply and learn how much their medications will cost by signing in to MyMedicareUHC.com and going to the Pharmacies & Prescriptions tab. Not a member? Learn more here.

Catch up with the rest of the Checkup Challenge:
Day 1: Assess your physical activity level
Day 2: Test your balance
Day 3: Think about your bowel and bladder function
Day 4: Check in with your feelings
Day 5: Take charge of your care
Day 7: Make your health emergency plan