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Managing Your Medicines
Tips and Tools That Can Help

by Joshua J. Neumiller, PharmD, CDE, CGP, FASCP

Keep a list. Make a list of all the medicines you take on a daily basis, and keep it up to date. Medicine lists can help you remember the names of your medicines, what you take them for, what they look like, and when you are supposed to take them. There are several useful Internet resources that you can use to create and continually update your medicine list, but an effective list does not necessarily require recent technology — it can be as simple as a piece of notebook paper. However, it may help to add certain elements to your list, such as a timetable for taking each medicine and a chart to check off a medicine once you take it. For medicines that you take less often than daily, a calendar can also be an invaluable tool.

Numerous studies have shown that by keeping a simple list of your medicines and sharing it regularly with your health-care team, you can put yourself at a lower risk for drug interactions, side effects, and other problems related to your medicines. Not only will a list help you manage your medicines more effectively, but sharing it with your doctors, pharmacist, and other health-care professionals could also improve the quality of care that you receive.

Use a pillbox. People with diabetes often take multiple medicines every day, and having to handle a large number of pill bottles can lead to confusion about whether you have taken a medicine. It is not uncommon for people to mistakenly take extra doses of a medicine or to miss a dose because they thought they already took it.

Pillboxes are a relatively inexpensive and effective strategy for managing a large or small number of medicines. A variety of pillbox designs are available; most can be filled on a daily or weekly basis. Different pillboxes can be purchased to accommodate the number of times a day you take your various medicines: For example, some boxes have three compartments for each day of the week, providing a place to store morning, lunchtime, and evening medicines separately. Pillboxes can be purchased online or at any pharmacy.

Request special packaging. Some pharmacies will package your medicines upon request into blister-packs that are labeled specifically with the times of day and days of the week to take each medicine. There is often a fee charged for this service, but it can be very useful for people who have trouble remembering whether or not they took their pills for the day.

Set up refill reminders. Another frequent cause of missed doses is running out of medicine. It is often difficult to tell how many pills are left in a bottle or how many days’ supply of insulin is left in an insulin vial. Developing a system to remind yourself to refill your prescriptions before you run out can help prevent missed doses. Issues with insurance billing and other barriers may limit how early you can refill your medicines, so providing yourself with a reminder at just the right time is important.

Refill reminders can be as simple as a note on your calendar once every month (or as often as necessary). Most major pharmacies also provide refill reminders by phone upon request, and some will automatically refill your prescription and let you know when it’s ready. Most mail-order pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers (which provide prescriptions by mail directly through insurance plans) also offer refill reminders by e-mail, phone, or regular mail. And some pharmacies can provide you with a note each time you pick up or receive your prescription medicines letting you know when you can next request a refill or whether you are out of refills and need to contact your doctor.

Electronic devices
A number of electronic devices — some fairly simple, some more sophisticated — may be helpful for people who have trouble remembering to take their medicines. Many common items — including some watches, personal digital assistants, cell phones, blood glucose meters, and insulin pumps — can be set to sound an alarm, vibrate, or flash a light when it is time to take your medicine. While some of these devices can be set to sound only one alarm per day, many can be set for multiple alarms. Alarms are also useful as reminders to check your blood glucose.

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