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Managing Medications Safely

Updated on February 28, 2015

The Importance of Medication Management

Of all the pieces in the healthcare pie, no one slice bears more significance upon our success with wellness than the safe and effective management of our medications. This is true because...

1) Medication use is rising. Nearly 2/3 of Americans are currently taking medications regularly, and that percentage is much higher in seniors.

2) Medication misuse and drug interactions are the 4th to 6th leading cause of death, and adverse drug reactions are responsible for nearly 7% of hospitalizations.

3) According to the American Heart Association "The No.1 problem in treating illness today is patients' failure to take prescription medications correctly, regardless of patient age."

There are many reasons why managing our medications is becoming so difficult. This article attempts to address the most important things that you can do to help enusure safe and effective use of your medications. I hope these things will help you (or allow you to help a loved one) to manage your medications safely.

Sample Blank Medication List

1. Keep an Updated List

An updated list of all your medications, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC), is an essential and important tool to manage your medications safely. I recommend that you actually make (3) copies of this list and keep...

  • 1 copy on your refrigerator (usually a prominent place, and can be found by medical personnel if necessary)
  • 1 copy near your medications. Where do you keep your medications? If possible they should be kept in 1 location. A kitchen cabinet is often convenient. A bathroom is usually not a good idea since meds can more easily be dropped into a sink or toilet, and also the moisture from a hot shower is not good for most tablets or capsules. Be sure to keep them out of the reach of children.
  • 1 copy in your car or pocketbook or wallet. Basically, put this last copy somewhere that you will have access to it when you are not at home.

A FREE blank sheet that you can print out at home and fill in with your medications can be downloaded by CLICKING HERE.

A FREE medication list onto which you can safely and securely enter all your medications is provided by The Honest Apothecary right HERE.

A FREE download that actually lets you fill in the information on your computer and then print it out at home! It is called My Medicine List.

Sample Pill Box

2. Use a Medication Box

A medication box helps keep all your medications organized and helps reduce medication errors and mistakes by:

  • Keeping all daily medications together in 1 convenient place
  • Organizing medications into their appropriate times of day
  • Assisting in planning for necessary refills and reordering of medicine
  • Reminds when daily dosages have already been taken or need to be taken
  • Allows for convenient travel with removable daily boxes

The best medication boxes are large enough to hold all your daily medications with at least 4 daily dosage times (morn/noon/evening/bedtime), can be filled for 1 full week, and will allow individual days to be removed for travel when necessary. They should be easy enough to open, clearly printed, and made of sturdy plastic material that can be occasionally washed when needed.

Some available pill boxes are shown below. A well organized pill box will help you manage your medications safely. In paticular the Medcenter Jumbo System below has a daily alarm which issues a reminder to take your prescription.

3. Read the Literature

Every prescription filled today should come with a detailed leaflet explaing the most important information about your medication. Remove this literature from the bag and read it every time you receive a new medication. Highlight important information like what you can and cannot take with your medication, side effects that are more serious, as well as when and how to take your medication and where to store it.

I recommed you keep 1 copy of this information for every prescription you take, and organize them alphabetically in a folder, binder or file. Having this information handy will assist you to manage your medications safely.

However, realize that such information is often very general and not necessarily sufficient to give you all the information you will need. For more detailed information, always talk with your doctor or pharmacist. The leaflet should provide good basic information though about what this medicine does and what to watch out for.

Additional copies of many prescription and non-prescription information sheets are available from the FDA by clicking here.

4. Other Important Tips

  • Be sure to request refills on your medication about 5 days before you run out. This allows time, if necessary, for your pharmacy to contact the doctor for additional refills. If using mail-order, allow at least 2 weeks for refills.
  • Always be sure your new medication actually treats the condition for which you saw your doctor. Check this before taking any new medication. Read the literature. If you saw your doctor for headaches then the leaflet shouldn't say that your prescription is used to treat high cholesterol. Call your pharmacy and question this if it ever happens.
  • Always find out when the best time of day to take your medication is. Also, ask if it can be taken with your other pills and what foods, if any, shouldn't be taken with it. Ask about the use of over-the-counter medications too. Include this information on your daily medication chart.
  • Watch expiration dates. Some medications expire more quickly than others. Ignore all the myths and rumors about "how long" you can safely use your medication after the expiration date. The fact is, after the expiration date, there is no guarantee of safety or effectiveness. Dispose of expired medication and replace it as soon as possible.
  • And most with your pharmacist if you have any questions at all. You may need to call him or her on the phone if you couldn't talk when you picked up your prescription, but just be sure to ask your questions before you begin. Following these tips should help you manage your medications safely.

Websites With Additional Information

Here is a list of some great websites with additional information on safely managing all your medications:

Medications Made Easy - a great article by AARP

Preventing Serious Drug Interactions - Another good FDA article

Using Medications Safely - by the American Society for Hospital Pharmacists


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    • profile image

      Aline 3 years ago

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      Tulio 3 years ago

      Thanks for trying to keep up. Patients who have CFS/ME can't find dotcros who actually know anything about this illness, thanks to the CDCs misinformation campaign, so it is heartening to hear of someone who has some interest in learning about it.I hope you take the time to read the comments following the WSJ stories. Many of them are very educational.

    • lucybell21 profile image

      Bonny OBrien 6 years ago from Troy, N.Y.

      very useful and helpful info. I find that with my residents hardly anyone really pays attention to what they are really taking. Oh don't get me wrong, I don't work in any type of nursing home or like that.

    • pharmacist profile image

      Jason Poquette 6 years ago from Whitinsville, MA

      Hi Leo,

      Do you mean "When was this article written?" If so, it was written a couple years ago, but updated from time to time. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Leo 6 years ago

      When was this report done?