How can I remember to take my medication?

If you’ve ever had any sort of health issues, you probably know what it’s like to be handed a thick stack of prescriptions with no idea what each medication does, why you should take them, or how often to take them. It can be easy to become overwhelmed, which can quickly lead to refusing to take all medications. However, with some careful planning and organizations, managing your medications can be simplified.

How to remember to take your medications

While it may be true that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, something sweet may not be the only (or best) way to manage your medications. Managing medications safely is an important part of successful treatment of any condition, and chronic pain is no exception. Here are some of the best ways to remember, organize, and keep track of your medications.

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Know that it’s important and ask questions

The first step to remembering to take your medications regularly is realizing that it’s important to do so.

Sometimes physicians hand over prescriptions without a full explanation, so don’t be afraid to ask questions, such as:

  • What does this medication do?
  • Why do you think it will help me?
  • Are there any potential side effects I should watch for?
  • Does it interact with any other medications, foods, or drinks?
  • Should I take this medication with food?
  • Is there a certain time of day that it’s more effective?

Before you leave the office, make sure you have a clear understanding of the following:

  • Dose: How much of each medication should you be taking? Ask about the amount of medicine in each pill (milligrams) as well as the number of pills. If you are not sure you will remember everything, write it down or take someone with you to your appointment.
  • Restrictions: Ask about which medicines need to be taken with food, which need to be taken without, and which should not be taken at certain times of day.
  • Side effects: Your pharmacist can discuss these with you as well, but talk to your doctor about potential side effects or drug interactions. It is crucial that you disclose any other medications – prescription, over-the-counter (OTC), or naturopathic – you may be taking so that your doctor can identify potential adverse drug interactions. If you aren’t sure if a particular supplement or OTC medication will interact, ask anyway.

Knowing why a medication is important can make you a lot more likely to take it. If you take multiple medications, consider taking notes. This way, if you lose the inspiration to take them later on, you can revisit your notes and remind yourself why it’s important.

Discuss your current medications

Open communication with your healthcare provider and all of his or her office staff is crucial to managing medications. Many issues with prescriptions begin at the doctor’s office, even with prescribing that is mostly electronic. Make sure you tell your physician about all of your medications, including over-the-counter.

Studies have shown that a lot of patients hold back from their physicians, but it’s extremely important to be honest about all the medications you take. They can interact with each other, sometimes dangerously. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(nsaids) like Aleve or Advil are safe in small to moderate doses on their own. When combined with some prescription drugs, though, they can increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. If your physician tells you that one of your prescription medications shouldn’t be taken with certain over-the-counter pain medications, ask what you should take instead.

In addition to drug interactions, some medications can react with foods. For example, some diabetes medications interact very dangerously with grapefruit. The effectiveness of certain blood thinners can be unintentionally reduced by vitamin K. Others can’t be taken with anything that’s been fermented, such as alcohol or certain cheeses. Also consider asking your physician how severe the interactions are, so you know how strictly you have to avoid them.

Use other resources, if needed

If you realize after leaving your doctor’s office that you forgot a question or two, don’t panic. Call the doctor’s office and ask them to have your physician call you back by the end of the day. You can also take advantage of pharmacists.

For example, most Walgreens pharmacies have a window just for consultations or questions. A pharmacist won’t be able to alter your prescriptions at all, but he or she will be able to give you a lot of information. Also, lots of pharmacies are open 24 hours a day, so you can call any time of the day or night with questions.

When you fill your prescriptions, read each label carefully and make sure that the prescription matches what your doctor told you. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to call your doctor or ask the pharmacist to double check.

Check your phone’s medication apps

Technology makes managing medications easier than ever. A study from Queen Mary University of London found that a simple text message helped one in six patients remember to take their medication. This may not seem like a large number, but when some research indicates that only half of patients take their prescriptions properly, that added patient is a step in the right direction. The lead author of the study believes that:

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“[a]n important and overlooked problem in medicine is the failure to take prescribed medication. The results of this trial show that text message reminders help prevent this in a simple and effective way. More than just a reminder, the texts provided the link to identify patients who needed help.”

There are tools beyond a text that can help patients remember to take medications. Apps for smartphones can be easily downloaded to do the reminding. These include the following apps.


This app allows users to customize it with all prescription information, including doctor and dosage. You can add or remove medications easily, and the app offers a custom alarm to remind you to take your pills. You can also program a reminder for when your prescription is running low. The app has a list of medications, making common prescriptions easy to add, but not all herbal supplements or over-the-counter meds are listed. These must be listed manually. This app is only available for iPhone 4 or later.


Dosecast offers similar features to rxmindme but is available for Android, Apple, and Blackberry phones. This app has similar features to rxmindme but also tracks medical adherence (whether or not you are taking your medications properly). This app also allows you to skip or postpone a dose and sends reminders that you program. reminder apps offers several different apps to help with not only medication reminders but also pill identifiers and apps for information on each drug. Their pill reminder app is free for iphones only and installs directly onto your phone. You can track prescriptions and set medication or refill reminders. Other features include drug interactions and warnings and precautions.

Prepare and organize your doses

Especially for those who are taking multiple medications multiple times a day, a weekly pill sorter can help you organize and plan ahead. These can be purchased in the pharmacy section of drug and grocery stores and can be as simple or elaborate as you like.

You can get small boxes or containers and label each one with a time of day (such as “Breakfast pills”). Then take each of them in that box at its assigned time. Alternatively, you can use colored markers, colored rubber bands, or colored stickers to denote the time of day. You can even put colored stickers on your chart (blue stickers for lunch pills, red stickers for bedtime pills, etc.) And coordinate the colors you mark your pill bottles with.

Pill organizers also work well for this. A pill organizer is a box with compartments for your medication times each day. Some have just one compartment, but others have as many as four. These are great for anyone who tends to forget if they’ve taken their medications yet. You can look at your pill organizer and easily see whether or not you’ve taken your “Dinner” pills on Thursday. You can even find pill organizers that release medications on a timer, have alarms, or come apart so you can bring a day’s medications with you.

Make organizing your medications part of your weekly Sunday night rituals. Or, if you’re on many, ask another family member to help out.

A note of caution: if you have small children in your house, pill sorters may not be a good idea. They are not childproof, and many medications can cause serious injury to children. Use common sense when deciding if this is a good plan for you, or make sure to store it in a secure place.

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Make a medication chart

The key to taking your medications regularly is organization and one of the best ways to do that is with a medication chart.

These are a lifesaver when you’ve got a lot of medications to keep track of. A chart gives you a place to record the name, dosage, time of day, and any other notes for each medication you take. You can print off and fill out this chart from the FDA or this chart from the North Carolina Program on Health Literacy. If you have allergies to any medications, consider writing them in across the top or bottom and labeling them clearly as allergies. Then make copies: one for home, one to carry with you, and one to give to a friend or family member.

Make sure you have your medication chart with when you see doctors. Your physician might even want a copy of it; if not, he or she will likely copy yours for his or her own records. Make sure you let your physician know if anything on your chart is incorrect. A bottle of white-out at home can help you correct your master chart so you can make updated copies.

Take your medications on your schedule

In other words, use your everyday activities as reminders.

Get into the habit of taking your medications with breakfast or just before you go to bed. If you take a lot of medications, you can use your chart to help you break them up throughout the day, perhaps taking a few with each meal and a few at bedtime.

Have a plan in place for eating out or traveling

If you have a pill organizer that comes apart into one-day sections, bringing along your medications for a day out is very easy.

If you’re only planning to be away from home for one meal, you can get a pill box. For medications that need to be kept at a certain temperature, have a small cooler on hand.

Bring in other technologies

You can also use a little technology to help you remember to take your medications, beyond those in your medication apps.

Research has shown that text alerts can help people remember to take their medications. There are several online services (like this or this) that you can sign up with to receive text or email alerts. You can even set reminders to help you remember to refill your prescriptions before you run out.

Additionally, if you’re on a lot of medications or have a serious medical condition, get a medical alert bracelet or necklace. These can list your condition, note that you have a medication chart in your wallet or purse, or even give an 800-number that can be called for more information.

Don’t forget to dispose of medications properly

The ideas above will help you remember to take your medications in proper doses, but what should you do if you switch medications and have pills remaining? The old standby used to be simply flush the medication down the toilet, but with drugs showing up in our drinking water this is no longer recommended. There are safer ways to dispose of expired or unnecessary medications.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers these guidelines for safe disposal of medication:

  • Do not flush down the toilet or wash down the drain unless the label specifically instructs you to do so.
  • Find a local drug take-back program.
  • If no take-back program is available, follow these steps: remove medications from original containers and mix with old kitty litter or used coffee grounds to make them unrecognizable and undesirable, then seal trash bags tightly or place in a sealable container and put out with your regular trash.
  • Do not give old medication to friends. This is illegal and unsafe.
  • If all of these methods sound unappealing or you are unable to safely dispose of your medications, bring them to your pharmacist for further instructions.

When you throw away empty prescription bottles, make sure to scratch out or black out all personal identifying information.

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