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Pharmacy U presenter Carlene Oleksyn: How do we get patients to be more medication-compliant?

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Carlene Oleksyn will be presenting at Pharmacy U Vancouver.


“How compliant is this patient?”

“How can we improve compliance?”  

“Here's a great gizmo to help with compliance.”

Healthcare professionals seem to chase around the dream of patient compliance.

I was recently in a room with a group of physicians and pharmacists discussing this very topic. Many of the physicians in the group assumed that as long as a medication was picked up at the pharmacy, the patient was actually taking the drug exactly as prescribed. While the pharmacists in the room had a silent chuckle over this, we cannot forget our own illusions of patient compliance. Pharmacists can easily believe that if we just sync up patient’s refills or put their medications into blister packs, this will improve compliance.

The bottom line is, if a patient does not want to take a medication, no tool, technology or compliance aid is going to fix this. 

It is the patient who will ultimately decide whether they take the drug.

Mr. V is a great example of patient “non-compliance”. Mr. V had a cardiovascular event 5 years ago and afterwards was put on a statin. He had been told over and over again by his physician that it was important for him to take this drug every day. The pharmacist put it in his blister pack and the doctor checked the fill history on the provincial electronic record which showed consistent filling of his prescriptions. All was well, except for one major problem: Mr. V’s LDL had been climbing in the last two years.  Mr. V’s doctor, out of concern, added an additional lipid lowering agent.    

In sitting down with Mr. V for a medication review, he disclosed to me that he was punching his statin drug out of his compliance pack. Indeed, he had hardly been taking it for years. 

He told me this after some conversation, which was mostly listening on my part. From that discussion I was able to discern why he didn’t like taking the statin. Knowing the “why” helped me tailor a solution.

I presented to him the science of statins post heart attack. I looked up his lipid panel and gave HIM the numbers on a piece of paper to compare for himself. Ultimately the decision was his. What we agreed on was he would take a reduced dose and test again in three months. 

Had I simply said "you need to take your medication," he would still be punching out his pills. 

This is the essence of shared decision making. If we don’t involve patients in decisions about their own health, they will often make their own decisions, and it will be without the guidance of their healthcare professionals.

Simple open-ended questions can accomplish this by inviting the patient to share their thoughts and experience. Asking a patient, "Do you know why you are taking this medication?" or “How do you feel this medication is working for you?” can open up a vast window of opportunity to engage a patient in their own care.

Carlene Oleksyn is a pharmacist with more than 20 years’ experience and owner of an independent pharmacy practice in Stony Plain, Alberta. Her practice focuses on maximizing professional services, including fully utilizing her prescribing authority, as well as appointment-based services and engaging patients in optimizing health outcomes. Carlene can be found at



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