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 In Ask an Expert, Internal Medicine, Pulse Blog

How can I be better about taking my prescriptions?

The best way to track and take medications really depends on both the medication and what works best for you. Many medications have specific instructions that are important to follow. Some drugs need to be taken on an empty stomach for better absorption. Other drugs need to be taken with water to prevent them from becoming “stuck” on their way to the stomach. Still other medications are better tolerated when consumed with food.

Your pharmacist is the best source of information on the requirements for each medication. Be sure to talk with him or her the first time you fill a new prescription so you understand when and how to take it. If you have questions about your medications, it’s best to discuss them with both your pharmacist and your doctor.

Tracking medications can be difficult, especially if you take multiple medications, or take a medication more than once daily. A pill box with days of the week and multiple compartments for each day can be helpful. Using a reminder system, such as an alarm on your phone, a wall calendar, or a talking electronic pill box can also help. You can also associate taking a pill with another behavior you do every day—for example, making coffee in the morning or brushing your teeth at night. Just be sure to keep any medications out of the reach of children and grandchildren.

Preparing in advance for what to do if you miss a pill is also important. Be sure to ask your pharmacist what your plan should be. A make-up dose is not recommended for most pills, however there are a few prescriptions that can be doubled up the next day. Some pills can be taken a few hours late. If there is some flexibility in when and how you take your prescription, consider keeping a single pill in your lunch bag or purse so that you have a back-up dose.

Finally, it’s important to ensure your prescriber knows all the medications you’re taking—including over-the-counter supplements. I find it helpful when patients bring their pill bottles in with them, that way we can review them together. Patients’ electronic medical records are a great tool, but sometimes medications expire, are accidentally discontinued, or remain on their charts even though they have been stopped. Reviewing medications at every visit is important to keep everyone up to date. If you are having trouble tracking and taking your medications, be sure to discuss this because there may be alternatives that can be taken less often, or are available in a combination pill to reduce pill burden.

Dr. Ella Vining is an internist at the Vancouver Plaza Neighborhood Clinic, which serves adults with complicated health conditions. She finds it rewarding to create long-term relationships with patients and to work with their families and specialists to ensure they receive holistic, coordinated care.

Ella Vining, MD.