Managing medication

Not taking medication as prescribed can lead to a higher incidence of sickness, more doctor or hospital visits, and increased medical costs.

Research shows that nearly half the medications prescribed are not being taken properly.  This has been referred to as “the other drug problem” because when patients are not taking medication as prescribed it has the potential of interfering with the ability to treat certain diseases, lead to more complications from an illness and lower a person’s quality of life.

According to the FDA Consumer Health Information, common barriers to medication adherence may include:

  • The inability to pay for medications
  • Disbelief that the treatment is necessary or helping
  • Difficulty keeping up with multiple medications and complex dosing schedules
  • Confusion about how and when to take the medication

Michigan State University Extension says the first step toward resolving problems described above is to communicate with your health care professional. Your doctor may be able to lessen problems related to side-effects, dosage confusion or cost by reviewing the medications prescribed and making simple adjustments.  Talking to your doctor about your medications, and having them explain how they are helping you, may also help motivate you to continue taking them as prescribed.

If remembering to take your medication is a problem, the book Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions provides the following suggestions:

  • Make it obvious – place your medication in a place where you’re likely to “stumble over” it (only if you don’t have young children around) – next to your toothbrush, in your lunch box or on the breakfast table. Reminder notes are also helpful as long as they are placed in a conspicuous place like the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door. 
  • Use a checklist or organizer – Make a chart with a list of medications you are taking and check them off as each is taken.  Medication organizers, containers that separate pills according to the time of the day they should be taken can be purchased at drugstores and may help prevent dosage confusion.
  • Use an electronic reminder - a watch or mobile phone can be preset to set off an alarm that reminds you to take your medication.  If you own a smartphone, there are free apps that can help you track and remind you to take your medication.
  • Have others remind you – ask members of your household to remind you to take your medication.
  • Don’t run out – mark your calendar on the date that is one week before your medications will run out.
  • Plan before you travel – don’t forget to pack your pills when you travel.  Take an extra prescription in your carry-on bag in case you lose your pills or checked luggage.

For more information on additional ways to remember to take your medication, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance, Medication Use Safety Training or the Arthritis Foundation.

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