How to Manage Medications
Organization. That’s the key to managing medications for yourself or a loved one.
To help, we’ve created a tool that will help: a medication schedule that you can download right now (PDF). Print out a few copies, grab a pencil and let’s get started.
Step One: Make a List of Current Medications
The first step is to gather every medication the patient is taking, whether a prescription; an OTC (Over The Counter; bought without a prescription); or herbal medications like dietary supplements, vitamins and green tea. Read the packaging or label. If you see any codes written on the prescription container, refer to the list of common codes at the bottom of the medication management schedule (PDF).
Using the medication label or prescription, let’s start writing on the schedule. Each day of the week has its own row. Start on the current day and document for each medication:
- Medication name (e.g. ibuprofen)
- Dosage (e.g. 1 tablet)
- How Often? (e.g. Twice Daily or 8 a.m./8 p.m.)
- Date Started (e.g. 4/26/17)
- Refrigerate? (e.g. Yes)
- Dr. who prescribed this medication (e.g. Dr. Marchio)
- Notes (e.g. Take with meals)
Once you’ve completed the current day, move on to the following days and complete those rows. Much of the information will be the same, but this makes it easy to manage one day at a time.
Now, double check the information to ensure everything is correct. When the patient goes to the doctor, the list should go too and the doctor should see it.
Step Two: Create a Medication Dispensing System
Here’s another tool that will help: a dispensing system. The most common is the pill organizer with multiple compartments for the days of the week, filled weekly, usually by the caregiver. These are inexpensive and can be purchased at any drug store. For some families, more complex dispensing systems that include beepers, electronic reminders and electronic pill organizers work better.
Once you choose your dispensing system, set it up and start using it.
Step Three: Keep Your Medication List Updated
Now that you’re familiar with every medication, why and how it’s taken, it’s critical to keep your medication list updated. Delete meds that are no longer needed and add new ones.
Your job will be most challenging if a new diagnosis or condition arises, or if the patient comes home from the hospital with different meds, transitions to a nursing home, or changes or adds a physician. Again, organization and attention to detail are key.
For managing complex or frequently changing medication schedules, you may want to consider something beyond our printout. Some options include a whiteboard hung on a wall, or applications for your mobile phone, tablet or computer.
As always, if you have questions about managing medications, consult the patient’s physician or healthcare provider.
Here’s an example highlighting the importance of medication management:
The family was alarmed. Their elderly mother was declining and they didn’t understand why. They found a new physician for her, a geriatrician, who evaluated the dozen or so medications their mother took—prescription, over the counter and herbal—and decided to wean her off all of them. Then the doctor slowly prescribed the meds that were needed, and was able to differentiate between side effects and new medical issues. The mother was stronger, less confused and once again able to live on her own. The family initiated and maintained a medication management system that was very simple—but critical to keeping their mother as healthy as she could be.
Medications save lives, but they also can have a deleterious effect—which can lead to more medications. That’s why effective medication management is so important. It requires organization and attention to detail, a small price to pay for good caregiving.