Making Sure Medications Are Taken Properly

by Kim Keller

Almost half of the people in America don’t take their medications properly, according to Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, a professor of medicine and clinical pharmacology at the University of Chicago, and a frequent contributor to the web on medication issues.  Dr. Hanauer offers these ten reasons why:

  1. They don’t understand why they should take this medication when they feel fine.
  2. They simply forget.
  3. The medication ran out and they didn’t refill it.
  4. They have too many pills to take.
  5. They only take medication when they feel a flare-up is imminent.
  6. They aren’t sure of the dosage instructions.
  7. They don’t like the way the medication makes them feel.
  8. The medication reminds them that they have a disease.
  9. They don’t understand why they need the medication.
  10. They don’t understand how the medication is affecting their body.

Our friend, Betty, who had been diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer a few years ago, was not good about taking her medications.  Her lapses made a bad situation worse.  So why did she neglect the doctor’s orders?  She’d say she forgot, or the medication made her feel worse, or the medication didn’t seem to work.  Many of the situations Dr. Hanauer described.

So what do you do?  First thing — call the doctor.  Betty’s doctor would always have an answer.  He would change her medication, or increase the dosage, or explain that the medication takes awhile to work, or point out that she should be taking the medication with food so that it wouldn’t make her feel sick.

As with any doctor, Betty’s physician was very clear about the following point:  When medications aren’t working as planned, call the doctor right away.  Don’t improvise a response.

Here are some ideas to deal with forgetfulness or confusion with instructions:

  • Use a daily pill dispenser with an alarm. has all kinds, ranging in price from $50 to $900.  Check out “Things That Make Life A Little Easier:  An Automatic Pill Dispenser.”
  • Use talking pill bottles.  The pill bottles have a recording device, allowing your parent’s doctor or pharmacist to record instructions right into the bottle, such as:  “This is your heart medication.  Take two pills with your breakfast each morning.”  This is also available from  It’s called “Talking Rx,” and each bottle costs $18.95.
  • Make a connection between taking meds and another established routine.  Our dad took his medication every day with his meals.  It became second nature to him.
  • Check out AccuPax.  This service combines all of your parent’s daily medications (including over-the-counter meds and vitamins) by putting them into individually sealed packets.  Each sealed packet has a description of the medications therein and the time of day those particular meds must be taken.  For example, if your parent takes a certain medication three times a day, there will be three such time-stamped Accupax packets.  Any other medication that gets taken three times a day will be part of that packet as well.  It is also a highly convenient service – once AccuPax receives your parent’s prescriptions, then a licensed pharmacist prepares the packets, including automatic refills, and a 30-day supply is sent right to your parent’s home.  Find out more by checking out their website at or give them a call at 888-600-9692.

If you have any other interesting ideas, we’d love to hear.

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