By Barbara Bronson Gray, RN, MN
It's so easy to make a mistake when you're taking just about any medication.
Could your Claritin be interacting with your antibiotic? (Probably not.)
Is it too early to grab another Tylenol? (Generally, you can take it every 4 hours; make a note of what time you're taking each dose).
If you're juggling several medications, it can be especially challenging. It’s easy to forget when you're supposed to take each drug. And the more medications you have, the greater the chance of drug interactions creating side effects or diminishing the effectiveness of a medication.
But there are a variety of things you can do to simplify your situation and make it easier to manage your medications:
First, always be sure you understand a prescription when a healthcare provider writes it for you. Whether it’s a brand new medication or a revised dose of one you’ve been taking, read it out loud back to the doctor or nurse and make sure you know what is being prescribed. When you receive the medication from the pharmacy, double check to make sure it’s right.
If your medication dosage changes, put a post-it note on the container with the previous dosage to remind yourself not to use that bottle. Of course, you may want to keep the bottle, if it hasn’t expired, since there’s always the chance you’ll be switched back to the previous dose. Be sure you don’t accidentally revert to the older prescription.
Keep an updated list of all your prescription and non-prescription (over-the-counter) medications. Write down the name of each drug, the dosage, and the purpose. Bring a copy with you to health appointments and to the drug store when you pick up the medications. It’s not a bad idea to keep a copy in your wallet or purse just in case you end up at an urgent care clinic or emergency room, too.
Try using a simple 7-day pill organizer to help you avoid missing a dose or accidentally taking a pill when you shouldn’t. You can find them with sections for several times during the day. You can organize all your pills at the beginning of the week and then easily see if you forgot to take something. One caveat: If you are traveling by plane, you can't take a pill organizer through security. Instead, bring your prescription bottles.
You can also check out a variety of free tools, all available online:
MyMedSchedule.com offers free systems to set refill reminders, maintain medicine schedules for you and for others in the household, print your schedule in English or Spanish, and create a wallet-size schedule to keep with you.
Surveyor Health provides a personalized drug assessment tool designed to show users not only drug-drug interactions but also the much more common and often dangerous adverse drug side effects.
Vitality offers a “smart” pill bottle that uses sound and lights to help remind you to take your medications.
Consider getting a medical alarm watch for medication management. For example, the reminder watch offers up to 12 daily alarms that beep and show a visual message at pre-scheduled times. The watch also serves as an electronic medical alert/ID bracelet.
Use one pharmacy for all your medications if you can. That way your pharmacist will have the complete list of what you're taking all in one place. Ask your pharmacist to check the list and alert you of possible drug interactions.
It's wise to review your total list of medications with your healthcare provider at every visit . Be sure each doctor, including your dentist and eye doctor (ophthalmologist), is aware of your medications. Be certain any healthcare provider knows if you're on a blood thinner or are a diabetic. If you're taking pain killers or drugs for a chronic condition, be sure everyone is aware.
Also, if you've ever had a bad reaction to a drug -- even if it was never officially labeled an "allergic" reaction -- make sure your healthcare providers know that and document it clearly in your medical record.
The bottom line: the drugs designed to improve your health can end up working against you if you don't take them as directed. They can also sometimes cause problematic interactions. It's critical that as CEO of your own body you understand that you're ultimately the one most responsible for managing your total drug regimen.
Barbara Bronson Gray is an award-winning writer and a nationally recognized health expert. She's a regular contributor to HealthDay.com, preparedpatientforum.com and thirdage.com. Barbara has worked in hospitals, as a nurse and as an administrator, led a major healthcare magazine, created a website for WebMD, and served as a leader of global communications for Amgen, the world's largest biotech company. She continues to write and speak about healthcare and has a communications consultancy. Follow her on Twitter: @bbgrayrn.