Your patients require the understanding and compliance of their owners to take their medication in the correct dosage and on the correct schedule. Owner education is vital in ensuring that your patient consumes their medication as directed. Confusion about the prescription or instructions can lead to perceived treatment failure, a negative reaction to the treatment, or worsening of the patient’s condition. This is why it is crucial to take the time to thoroughly educate all of your patient owners.
Let’s go over the three most common deterrents to medication administration so you can recognize and address them with the owner before harm.
Reason #1: The owner does not understand what the medication is for/The team did not stress the importance of medication to their animal
Often, if an animal has an asymptomatic disease state, it can be easy for the owner to assume that the patient is fine. This can lead to the owner either discontinuing treatment too soon, or not administering treatment in the first place. You can avert this non-compliance by explaining the necessity of giving the drug. Make sure they understand exactly what is wrong with their animal, and the consequences of not following through with treatment.
Another common scenario is that the prescribed medication is expensive and the owner does not see the value in buying it. You can circumvent this, again, by explaining the importance of the medication and the negative consequences to the patient’s health if it is not administered.
In addition to verbalizing, provide owners with education materials on the disease state, medication, and how to appropriately administer the medication so they can refer back to them at home. Documentation also adds a certain level of officiality that can help bring home the importance of compliance.
Reason #2: The patient’s owner was not included in decision-making and mutual goal setting
This mistake is an easy one to make, but veterinarians must remember that they are not the primary care-giver for their patients. The owner may ultimately have different priorities regarding their animal’s care. For instance, an owner may not be able to deal with a complex treatment regimen due to their own mental or physical limitations. Likewise, the owner may not have understood the involvement requirement when treatment first began, which can lead to non-compliance as the treatment period continues.
Include your patient’s owner in all decisions regarding the patient’s care and come up with shared goals for the patient together. Making the owner a part of the process gives them ownership of the patient’s treatment and health, making it more likely that they will follow through than if they feel treatment is forced upon them.
Reason #3: Inadequate follow up and poor patient-provider-pharmacy relationship
A major reason that medication administration is discontinued by owners is that no follow up appointment was scheduled for the patient. Follow up appointments set a timeline and hold owners accountable for improved symptoms. Setting a follow up appointment also establishes that you care for the patient and their well being even after they leave the office.
During the initial and follow up appointments, be sure to discuss a symptom improvement timeline. Without a timeline, owners can become discouraged and believe the medication is not working as it should, leading to discontinued administration. Remove the barriers to adherence by scheduling follow up appointments immediately and referring the owner to the appropriate resources should they have issues administering the medication.
Your patients can only improve if they have taken their medications, and this is completely reliant on their owner’s cooperation. Educate patient owners on when, why, and how to give the medication, include them in the decision-making process, and follow up with your patient and their owner in a timely manner. If you take these basic steps, you should start to see an improvement in medication compliance.
Be sure to verbally ask animal owners if they understand what the medication is for, and then, instruct them on medication administration. If the medication is in an unusual or difficult to use form—such as an injection or a suppository—have them practice with you present to instruct them. Make sure the patient owner is completely confident before they leave and encourage them to continue with treatment as prescribed.