Avoid medication mishaps
Simple steps can make a difference
If you take medications, it’s important to take them correctly.
The more meds you take, the easier it is to get confused and take too many or not enough, take them at the wrong times, and more. That goes for both prescription and over-the-counter meds.
It’s a serious issue: About 1.3 million medication-related ER visits and 350,000 hospitalizations occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some simple steps can help you or a loved one take meds safely.
Organization is key. The National Institutes of Health suggests three systems that may work for you.
A pill organizer: Available at any drugstore, they’re typically configured for use over seven, 14 or 28 days, with a compartment for each day. You can use more than one dispenser if some of your meds need to be taken more than once a day. “Label each one with the time of day,” the NIH says.
An automatic pill dispenser: These can hold one to four weeks’ worth of pills and dispense them up to six times a day. Most models feature blinking lights and audio alarms, which are a big help for people who may forget to take their medication or need to take it at specific times.
Color labeling: Use a color marker to label your medicine bottles for the time of day you should take the medication. For example, use a blue mark for the morning, a green mark for lunchtime and a black mark for nighttime.
Keep in mind that older people often take lots of medications, and they may need help filling and refilling their dispensers. And automatic pill dispensers run on batteries, which will need to be changed.
You also need to create a plan for how you’ll organize and take your medications when you’re away from home.
Put it in writing
Writing out your daily schedule for medications on a calendar or chart is useful, too.
“Be sure to update the schedule each time your medicine changes,” the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says. “Follow the schedule exactly, and take the exact dosage prescribed by your health care provider.”
Also important: Keeping and printing out a detailed list (with dosages and how often you take them) of your medications, including over-the-counter meds and herbal supplements. Keep a copy at home and in your wallet or purse. It’s especially helpful if you have more than one medical provider, and it provides crucial information for paramedics and medical staff if you need to go to the ER.
“Patients should be writing down what medications they’re on, why they’re taking it and how they take it, and bring it to all of their appointments,” said Denise Fu, clinical programs manager of patient care services with Johns Hopkins Home Care Group.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends reviewing your medications with your primary care provider at least once a year (but preferably each visit). “Bottom line: A medication review with your health care provider can help you avoid medication interactions.”