By Dr. Beth G. Hodges
If you take one or more medications, it’s very important that you take them exactly as prescribed. As former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop once said, “Drugs don’t work in patients who don’t take them.”
Failing to take medications as prescribed can lead to a visit to the emergency room, a hospitalization, or even death. Here are some common problems people run into when managing their medications — and ways to get back on track.
Forgetting to take your medication
Even if you just have one prescription, it’s easy to forget it when you’re busy or distracted. Here are some things you can try to help you remember:
- Find a tool to help you manage your medications. You can click here to print out blank medication tracker charts. (Take them to every doctor’s appointment.) There are also medication management apps that you can download to your smartphone or tablet, such as Medisafe.
- Use an alarm clock or set a reminder on your phone to alert you it’s time to take your pills.
- Use a pillbox. There are lots of varieties depending on your needs.
- Ask your provider to prescribe your medications in a way that lets you take them at the same time or close together, if possible. If medications can’t be taken together, ask how far apart the doses need to be.
- If you leave the house frequently, keep an extra day of medications with you. That way, if you forget to take them before you leave home, you have them with you.
- If your schedule makes it hard to take your medications on time, talk to your provider. There might be another medication or doses that would be better for you.
Do you understand how to take your medications properly and know what side effects to look for? There are several things you can do if you’re not sure:
- Schedule an appointment with your provider or the nursing staff to review them with you.
- Ask your pharmacist to review your medications or answer questions about your prescriptions. (The pharmacist can also tell you how to dispose of expired medications properly.)
- If you can’t get to your provider’s office easily, ask your provider to schedule a home health nurse to review your medications with you.
Fear, cost, and other concerns
There are many reasons people miss doses of their medications: cost, fear, mistrust, side effects, or belief that a medication is not working. Whatever the reason, your best bet is to discuss any of these issues with your provider. They can’t help you if they don’t know your concerns.
If out-of-pocket cost or the inconvenience of going to the pharmacy every month is an issue, ask your provider to prescribe most medications in 90-day supplies. You’ll pay two copays instead of three, and you’ll only have to pick up your prescriptions (or receive the mail order) every three months.
Remember, communication is key!
There are several things your provider needs to know regarding your medications:
- Make sure every provider you see knows about all the medications you are taking. Keep a current list in your purse or wallet.
- Tell your providers about any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Anything you take counts, so speak up! Better safe than sorry.
- If you use more than one drug store or get some prescriptions in the mail, make sure each pharmacy is aware of all your medications.
- Always talk to your provider before stopping a prescribed medication. That medication may be more valuable to your health than you realize.
Dr. Beth Hodges is a family practice and palliative care/hospice physician in Asheboro, N.C., as well as a part-time medical director for HealthTeam Advantage.