Thursday, 27 November 2008

Managing Medicine Muddle

As I discovered the practical reality of having to take so many medicines each day can be a real pain and can eat up far too much precious time and energy. Here is how I got to grips with my medicine muddle ...

Most ‘loopies’ have to take some sort of medication daily. It is not unusual to walk away from the pharmacist with a shopping bag brimming full of what looks like a wonderful sweet shop of pills of different colours, shapes and sizes to take each day. However, clearly unlike the sweet shop an ad hoc ‘pick and mix’ approach is not a great idea when it comes to taking your medicines!

As I discovered for myself, managing medications on a daily basis can be very confusing and it is easy to get in a muddle, especially when you are either really ill, or busy. It can also be easy to forget to take it all, or to remember whether it was today or yesterday you downed that handful of tablets?! I found that getting through the obstacles of obtaining the medicines from the GP and pharmacist in the first place, then working out how much of each drug to take, and checking you take the right number of the right tablets at the right time all added to the confusion and the whole thing was a real hassle.

I know things got worse each time new pills were added to my repertoire and to make matters worse, additional medications usually corresponded with my lupus being worse and my energy and patience being lower. I used to riffle through a variety of packets and boxes every morning, assembling a little pile of pills next to me on the breakfast table, that I would often joke could be added to a bowl of milk and called my ‘second breakfast cereal’. Each time I just had to hope that I had done it right and hadn’t missed anything or accidently taken some sort of fatal overdose. Daytime and evening pills were more prone to being forgotten entirely in spite of my best intentions. It was all ‘a bit hit and miss’.

However, after this rather haphazardous approach and thanks to the ‘subtle hint’ gift of a pink pill dispenser from my ever-concerned Mum, I eventually managed to streamline the process and become far more adept at taking my pills as prescribed.

Here are some of my top tips to help make it easier:

  • Prepare a personal medical routine preferably on your computer and update it each time there are any changes. This acts as a quick reference and helps you to be clear about what to take and helps you avoid making mistakes. Include drug name, dose, how many pills, what it is for and when to take it and make a note if any should be taken before or with food and when/if to alter the dose. It is also handy to take with you when you visit the doctor / pharmacist

  • Use a weekly pill dispenser to allocate medicines at the beginning of the week. OK, it takes a little while to do, but if you set half an hour aside each week and use a print-off of your daily medical routine to help you (as described above) it pays off. For the rest of the week you no longer have to waste time fishing around, looking for and opening different packs and the chances of making a mistake are significantly reduced. Importantly, if you are a bit forgetful like me, it is a way of checking whether or not you have taken your pills that day. I bought mine from  and it has the advantage that each day’s pills are in separate containers labelled with the relevant day of the week (if you are away from home you just take those you need) and each of these is divided into ‘time of day’ compartments so you can divide medicines into the times of day they need to be take. All handy stuff!

  • Keep a dose of crucial medicines in your bag so you have them at all times, so if you forget to take them in the morning and remember later you are able to take them immediately. It also gives you the freedom to make spontaneous decisions to stay away overnight without messing up your medicine routine ... after all, you never know!

  • Sign up with a pharmacy that has a repeat prescription Delivery  & Collection Service. It is easy to realise when it’s too late that you have run out of an important medication and it is frustrating when you are spending far too much precious time to-ing and fro-ing between the GP surgery and pharmacy. Since I joined up my local pharmacy’s repeat prescription Collection and Delivery Service these problems have become a thing of the past. It goes like this: I send an email to my GP surgery requesting the medicines I need, two days later I get a phone call from my local pharmacy to say my medicines are ready. All I have to do is to pick them up from the pharmacy and on one occasion when I was very poorly, they even delivered them to my door! It’s as simple as that. I use ABC Pharmacy but there are others who offer the same service.

  • Consider buying a Prepayment Prescription Certificate if you don’t qualify for free prescriptions. When I came out of hospital with a new ‘shopping list’ of medication and found out how much it was going to cost me in prescription charges, I nearly fell over backwards! Thankfully, someone told me about the Prepayment Prescription Certificate and it has saved me a lot of money. If you pay for more than 3 prescriptions a month it is worth considering buying one. I pay £102.50 a year (and you can pay in instalments)