An apple a day to keep the doctor away sounds easy enough. But it can be confusing to stay on track with your prescription drugs from start to finish, especially if you are taking multiple medications and supplements.
Try these tips and tools to organize your pill schedule, prevent missed doses, and make sure you never run out of refills.
Use a Pillbox
They’re inexpensive and handy, and you can find them at your local pharmacy. Basic organizers have separate compartments for each day of the week. Bigger ones have multiple slots if you take pills more than once a day. This allows you to sort drugs according to exactly when you need to take them. (If you want a pillbox alternative, you can put medications in different-colored bottles for separate times of day.)
You can safely store most medications in the same organizer compartment with other drugs for short periods of time without them interacting. But check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure.
Also, make sure your pillbox is filled correctly. It’s easy to drop in two pills where there should be only one or to put the wrong medicine into a bottle. You also need to remember to refill your organizer when it’s empty. It may help you to do it on the same day each week or month. If you need extra help, ask a friend or a relative to fill your pillbox when they visit.
Make a Checklist
A written chart that shows which medications to take and when to take them is another good way to stay organized. You can find them online or make your own.
Include the name of the medicine, the dose, when you take it, and what the pill looks like. Also mark any special instructions, such as whether it should be taken with food.
Leave space to check off that you've taken each dose. Update your drug list as soon as you change prescriptions.
If your medication schedule is complicated, an automatic pill dispenser may be the way to go. You can rent one by the month. Or you can buy it for a few hundred dollars, or spend up to a thousand bucks, sometimes with a monthly subscription fee. It can hold more than a dozen pills of all shapes in each cup and alert you when it’s time to take them.
The fanciest dispensers can connect wirelessly to your pharmacist to let them know if you skip a dose. Medicare for seniors doesn’t cover these gadgets. But some state Medicaid programs for people with low incomes or disabilities may pay for them. Check with your insurance.
You can also get cheaper automatic dispensers for under $100. These often look similar to regular plastic pillboxes. Some rotate mechanically on a timer, and many lock to keep you from accidentally taking the wrong dose. You can program these to alarm when you’re due for another dose.
Take Single-Dose Packets
Ask your doctor or pharmacy if they can give you predated single doses or blister packs. Some pharmacies will organize your meds into separate, custom-filled packets, which are marked with the date, day of the week, dosage, and even the time of day when you should take the drugs. Just make sure to let your pharmacy know right away if your prescriptions change.
Predated packets work best when you know your routine will stay the same. You may still want to order a few at a time in case there’s a change in your prescriptions.
If your dosage changes often, or you’re just starting a new drug and you know your doctor will probably adjust your medication, this might not be the best option for you.
Some pharmacies also can personalize and simplify your prescription schedule. You get easy-to-follow instructions (in some places in Spanish) with the best times of the day to take your meds and in ways that lower the number of daily doses. Ask your pharmacy if it offers a similar program.
Turn to Technology
These can be your handy helpers! Research shows that technology can really help you stick to a schedule.
Set alarms on your phone to help you remember to take your medication or refill your dispensers each week or month. You can also program your phone or computer to send you an email or text message when it’s time for your meds. You can tweak these alarms to fit any regimen, whether you’re taking your meds at the same time each day, three times a day, or just once a week.
A wristwatch may also be a good option if you have trouble hearing alarms from a separate room.
Several websites offer online medication trackers, and some will send you text or email reminders.
Electronic devices, some of which attach to prescription bottles, can play a recording that tells you when and how to take your medication. Some can be paired to a mobile app that lets you scan a bar code on the bottle, which opens a website with more information or plays the recording through your phone.
Mobile apps let you keep a checklist of medications on your phone. Some use Wi-Fi to keep a record of your doses in the cloud. Some can even be paired to a “smart” pill bottle, which has a sensor that tracks when you’ve opened it. Ask your pharmacist if they have these. Your app would then automatically tell a doctor, caregiver, or family member when you’ve taken your meds. These could be programmed to alert you or your contact person when you’ve missed a dose.
Adopt Helpful Habits
- Keep your pills in one place, which will make it easier to remember to take them.
- Choose an obvious, visible place to keep your pills, like next to the coffeepot or on your bedside table.
- Make it easy to tell your pills apart from those of another person in your household. Try different color pillboxes, for example, and be sure everything is clearly labeled.
- Follow a routine. Take your pills at the same time every day, like when you eat breakfast or after you brush your teeth at night.
- Keep a list of your medications, either on paper or using a mobile app or the internet.
- Stick a calendar on the wall or the fridge, and make a check mark every time you take your meds.
- Turn your medication bottle upside down when it’s time to refill.
Talk to Your Doctor and Pharmacist
If taking a medication several times a day is confusing, ask your doctor if they can prescribe something that you take less often.
Remember that your pharmacist is an important part of your health care team. Your drugstore's computer system stores a list of your medications. They may be able to help you draw up a checklist.
If you're on a Medicare drug plan, you may be eligible for medication counseling through a free program called Medication Therapy Management.