Tips for Medication Management

Taking medication isn’t as simple as it seems it might be on the surface. Even a single prescription can be challenging to take reliably, and adding more than one just increases the complexity and risk of errors or side effects.

There are many reasons that someone might miss doses of their medication or stop taking it altogether. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to a review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 20-30% of prescriptions aren’t even filled, and nearly 50% of medications prescribed for chronic conditions are taken incorrectly.

Thankfully, there are some tips for medication management that can help you to overcome these challenges and avoid health complications related to improperly managed medications.

Why is it important to manage medications correctly?

Skipping doses of medication, reducing how much you take, or stopping it altogether isn’t without risk. Although the consequences might not be obvious right away, they can sometimes be very serious. Every year, 125,000 deaths and 10% of all hospitalizations can be linked to failing to take prescription medication properly.

Taking medications correctly can help reduce these risks, and keep medical conditions from worsening. It can sometimes even prevent new ones from developing. Just knowing this doesn’t make taking them any easier, though. The reasons that people struggle to manage medications are complex.

What are some reasons people don’t take medications correctly?

There can be a single reason that someone might not be taking their medication correctly, or there can be more than one barrier in their way. Some common reasons include:

  • Cost- in one national survey, around 30% of people reported not taking medication as prescribed due to cost.
  • Side effects– disruptive side effects or hearing about side effects from others you trust can discourage you from taking medication.
  • Forgetting– this is very common, especially if you have multiple medications and/or take medications more than once a day.
  • Complicated dosing schedules– some medications must be taken 3 or 4 (or more) times per day, some before or after food, and some can’t be taken together. The more medications and dosing instructions there are, the more confusing it gets.
  • Insurance barriers– insurance companies often impose restrictions on when you can refill, change coverage, require specific authorizations from your doctor, or will only pay for generics. If you change insurance companies because of a job, for example, all of your prescription coverage can have new rules.
  • Feeling better– nobody wants the hassle of taking medication. When you start to feel better, it’s tempting to stop taking your medication- or you might simply believe you don’t need it anymore.

What are some ways to manage medication correctly?

All of the above challenges can interfere with taking medication correctly. However, there are many useful ways to ensure you manage your medication in the best way possible. This helps you stay healthier and have fewer symptoms of any chronic health conditions.

  • Talk to your doctor- be sure to mention any side effects so they can work with you to reduce or eliminate them. And ask about any over-the-counter medications you take, too: sometimes these can interact with prescription medications.
  • Ask about changing the formulation- medication often comes in liquid and pill form, for example. Having trouble swallowing a pill? Liquid could be easier. Can’t remember to take medication twice a day? Is there a once-daily extended-release version?
  • Practice safety- don’t double up on missed doses, crush or split medications, take medications prescribed to someone else, or increase, decrease or stop taking a medication without checking with your doctor. Fill all your medications at the same pharmacy to help avoid drug interactions.
  • Use cost-cutting strategies- generic drugs may be cheaper than brand name, filling a 90-day supply instead of 30 can sometimes cost less, and drug manufacturers often offer copay assistance programs and coupons to reduce out-of-pocket costs. There are also online companies that offer prescription discount services. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you are having trouble affording a medication; they can guide you to helpful options.
  • Participate in case management- this service may be available through your insurance or sponsored by employment benefits. For some serious or chronic conditions, your healthcare provider can refer you to case management through their health system or hospital. Case managers, often nurses, can help you navigate challenges in refilling, understanding, and affording medications.
  • Use a system for organizing medication that works for you- there are many ways you can organize medications and build a system for remembering to take your doses correctly. Picking one that works best for your lifestyle and needs will help you be successful.

What is the best way to organize medications?

To help you figure out the best way to organize your medications, it helps to think about your everyday life and choose an approach that makes sense for your daily habits. There are many tools available that can help you keep on top of your medications. Here are the top 7 tips for organizing your medications:

  1. Use a pill organizer- this can help keep multiple medications grouped by day and even time of day, and serve as a visual confirmation of whether you’ve taken a dose if you can’t remember. There are even digital pill organizers that will alarm if you forget to take a dose on time.
  2. Consider daily dose packs- some pharmacies offer a monthly pill-organizing service that packages your medications in individual pouches for each day’s dosing.
  3. Use an alarm or medication reminder app- using an app means your reminders stay with you, even on the go. If you use injectable medications, some apps will even help you keep track of injection sites. Or you can set a regular alarm on your phone to remind you a dose is due.
  4. Incorporate your medications into your routine- think about habits you already have, like drinking a cup of coffee each morning, and pair your medications with that habit by keeping them right by the coffee pot, for example. Or try keeping a visual calendar or schedule of medications posted in a place like the refrigerator door.
  5. Enlist support from family- if family or another caregiver is regularly involved in your life, ask if they can help you remember to take doses or get refills on time.
  6. Review your medications with your doctor- making sure the dosage you’re taking matches what your doctor has on file at each visit can avoid mistakes and alert them to any changes that might be needed.
  7. Keep a current list of your medications with you- a wallet card or a MedicAlert Smart ID can keep your medications handy for reference, especially in an emergency where healthcare providers need to see a list of everything you take. Or you can use a MedicAlert Protection Plan to store your medications and print a list for visits.

Make sure you’re practicing safe medication storage habits, too. Always store medications safely away from children (especially if they aren’t in a child-safe container), and in a cool, dry place. Another important habit is checking medication bottles for anything you take as-needed: sometimes these medications can sit around unused for a long time and expire without you noticing.

How can a MedicAlert protection plan help organize medications?

Keeping track of multiple medications, especially when they change frequently, can be a big task. MedicAlert’s Protection Plans can help you organize all of this into one easily accessible place.

With a Protection Plan, your digital health profile stores all your medications and can be printed out for doctor’s visits, surgeries, or other healthcare needs. This is also available 24/7 through MedicAlert’s Emergency Response team, who can share your vital medical details whenever and wherever they are needed.

With a MedicAlert Smart ID, your medication record can be accessed quickly with a simple QR code scan. This also means first responders can see your medications and any drug allergies instantly in an emergency.

How can I make sure all clinicians know what medications I take?

It’s very common to see more than one doctor for different conditions. These doctors may not always know what has been prescribed at another visit. For this reason, always be sure each doctor knows what medications you are taking. You can use your up-to-date wallet card or medication list like your printable digital health profile from MedicAlert to review each medication at every visit.


How do I dispose of medications that are expired or discontinued?

You should always dispose of medications you aren’t using, to avoid accidentally taking an expired medication or one that interacts badly with your current prescriptions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers tips for safe medication disposal:

You can also check with your pharmacy or local health department for drug disposal tips relevant to your area.

Medication management is easy with the right approach.

Using the tips discussed here can help you improve your medication management skills and improve your overall health and well-being. Be patient with yourself if you make mistakes and forget to take doses even with new habits. Becoming consistent with a habit can take as long as 10 weeks.

Making use of tools like a MedicAlert Protection Plan and digital health profile can help keep you better organized and on track so you are sure you’re taking the right medication and the right doses. This gives you additional peace of mind and support to improve your health and reduce complications from any conditions so you can live a full and active life.

Sources: ACP Journals, FDA Flush List for Certain Medicines, FDA Drug Disposal: Dispose “Non-Flush List” Medicine in Trash, FDA Drug Take Back Locations, FDA Drug Disposal Questions and Answers, FDA Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should KnowKFF Article Public Opinion on Prescription Drugs and Their Prices, National Library of Medicine