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Medication therapy is an integral element of health care interventions. In 2005, approximately 2.5 billion prescriptions were dispensed in the United States. Two-thirds of physician office visits result in a prescription. Medication use is often supported by "hard science" and evidence; clinical practice often shifts to the "soft science" of medicine, trying to understand patients, their histories, personalities, medication adherence, and a way to provide the best possible care.

Of the billions of prescriptions filled, it is estimated that half are taken improperly. Achieving a balance between "hard" and "soft" sciences—by providing evidence-based medication therapy that patients will adhere to—becomes paramount. This chapter explores patient adherence; provider's considerations such as evidence, pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics, and safety; and health care system factors such as formulary systems/resources.

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Discrepancies among documented medication therapy records and actual patient use of medications are common and occur with all classes of medications. Therefore, the first step for the provider in determining optimal medication therapy is to understand what medications the patient is actually taking and how they are taking them. The physician must also inquire in a nonjudgmental manner whether patients are taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medications, herbal, or vitamin products. Over 12% of the population take herbals on a yearly basis, but only 38.5% of these patients report this to their physician. Table 46-1 lists five concise steps to a medication review. To obtain an accurate medication history, the physician should start by asking open-ended questions; for example, "What medications are you taking?" This approach avoids the common mistake of assuming the patient is taking all their medications as prescribed. Although conducting an open-ended medication history may take more time up front, it may ultimately prevent over- or underprescribing and may also improve patient relationships. Polypharmacy is defined as the concurrent use of multiple medications or the prescribing of more medications than are clinically indicated. Polypharmacy can be minimized by a thorough medication regimen review.

Table 46-1. Reviewing a Medication Regimen.
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