Medications can be essential in your care to help you recover from an illness or surgery, manage conditions or treat a disease. While beneficial, there could still be significant risks even when the right medications are prescribed.

Errors can take place for any number of reasons. Perhaps you don’t fully understand the instructions, like when to take each medicine, in what dosage. Maybe the side effects make you drowsy and you accidentally skip a dose or take too much.

Image of a home health nurse helping a senior man with his pill box

No matter what the circumstance, you’re at risk for an injury that can cause temporary or permanent damage. In fact, errors in taking medication lead to nearly 700,000 emergency room visits each year.  

Here are six tips to help make sure you or a loved one are getting the benefits of the medications while limiting risks such as missing a dose, accidentally overdosing, or experiencing an unhealthy drug interaction while taking medications.

  1. Document your list of medications and the schedule for taking them.

    Once you receive a medication schedule and instructions (e.g., take with food) from your doctor, create a list or a chart that will serve as your reference going forward. Refer to this list or chart when unsure of the medication schedule, when refilling a pill box and when going to the pharmacy to refill a prescription. It can also be taken to future doctor visits in order to make sure that you or the one you care for are getting the correct medications and that the risk for drug interactions remains low.

  2. Use a pill box.

    A commonly used tool for organizing medications is a simple pill box or pill organizer with separate compartments marked with the days of the week that help you keep track of which medications need to be taken on a daily basis. If you or the one you care for take different doses of medication in the morning and night, you can designate a box for each time (a dark-colored one for night and a light-colored one for day, for example). You can find pill organizers at any drug store or order one online.

  3. Incorporate your medications into your routine and set up a reminder/alert.

    Pill boxes are only useful if you remember to take your medicine, which can be difficult for many people, especially if you take more than one. To help you remember, try to link your medications into your daily routine. You might want to get into the habit of taking medicine immediately after you brush your teeth in the morning, with a meal such as lunch or right after you brush them at night. By tying your medication schedule with a routine daily activity, you create a new habit that goes a long way toward helping you remember when to take or administer pills.

    You can also use reminders – such as a sticky note placed on the refrigerator or a simple calendar – to remind yourself that it is time for medications. Or, use an actual alarm clock – or set an alarm on your watch or smartphone – to alert you not to miss medication time.

  4. Pick one pharmacy and stick to it.

    It’s a good practice for those using multiple medications to pick one pharmacy and use it for all of your prescription needs. This can not only help prevent negative drug interactions, it also makes filling your prescriptions a one-stop event. Most pharmacies offer an auto-refill service and many even offer a phone reminder when it’s time to come pick up your next round of medications. Choosing one pharmacy also allows you to develop a relationship with the pharmacist, who can be a valuable ally in your care. Ask your pharmacist questions if you have concerns about your medication.

  5. Communicate with your doctor.

    Your pharmacist doesn’t replace your doctor. You should keep in touch with your doctor about your medications and overall health. Don’t hesitate to call if you feel that you or the one you are caring for is having an adverse reaction to medication, if you’re concerned that your medications aren’t interacting well together, or if your drugs don’t seem as effective as the day they were prescribed. The doctor may be able to prescribe you a different medication or look for alternative therapy options to help you feel better.

    It is estimated that one-third of all seniors haven’t talked to a doctor about their prescription medications within the past year. Don’t be on the wrong side of that statistic – keep in contact with your or your loved one’s doctor.

  6. Enlist home care. 

For anyone who has a difficult time remembering to take his or her medications, home health may be a helpful solution. Home health nurses help you or your loved one take medication effectively by teaching you about the medication, helping you become organized and even helping to administer medicines.

If you are ever unsure about the medications prescribed for yourself or a loved one you care for, please contact the doctor who prescribed the medications.

Home health care can also help you or a loved one manage your medications. For more information, call 1.866.KINDRED 24 hours a day, seven days a week to speak with a registered nurse and learn more.