5 ways to help to take medications on time

Medications generally work best when taken as prescribed. Yet research has shown that about half the time people don’t take their medications as prescribed.1 That can be especially true for those who are dealing with several health conditions at the same time.2

 “The more medications someone has, the more likely they are to take something more or less than they need to. Or potentially at the wrong time of day,” says Chelsea Maier, Pharm.D., specialty pharmacy manager at University of Louisville Hospital in Kentucky.

If this is something you’ve struggled with, setting up a simple system and getting help from your provider may help you remember to take your medications as prescribed. Here are some helpful suggestions for doing both.  

Keep a list

Make a detailed list of all the medications you take, advises Maier. Include prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and any supplements or vitamins. “Write it down and keep it in your wallet. Or type it out in your phone — whatever is easiest for you,” she says.

Besides the name of each medication, consider noting the following:

  • The dose: For example, how many milligrams
  • When to take it: For example, once in the morning, or every 12 hours
  • How to take it: Is it a tablet, a cream, or drops? Do you need to take it with food or water?
  • Who prescribed it and why: List the specialist’s name and the condition the medication is for

This list is useful for sharing with providers. But it also helps you remember what to take and when. That can come in handy when filling a pill organizer or creating a medication calendar (more on that below).

Use a calendar

Take a standard wall calendar and keep it where you can see it. For each day, write down each medication you need to take and when you need to take it. Then, cross it off after you take the medication, says Maier.

Calendars are particularly useful for medications not taken every day, says Maier. “For example, some vitamin D supplements are meant to be taken weekly or even monthly. So having that on a calendar is very helpful,” she adds.

You can also use a calendar on a smartphone or other electronic device. You can even set up alarms or alerts to remind you when it’s time to take each of your medications.

Upgrade your pill organizer

A basic pill box has a small compartment for each day of the week. That’s fine if you take 1 medication or several medications at the same time of day. But it may not work when taking several medications at different times, says Maier.

There are a range of organizers designed for people taking multiple medications. Some have 4 compartments per day — morning, noon, evening and bedtime. Others have a compartment for morning and evening. Pick the pillbox that works for you, says Maier.

As an alternative, consider buying a few 7-day pill boxes and label them morning, afternoon and evening, Maier says. Keeping the pill boxes where you can see them — for example, near the kitchen table if you take medications at mealtime3 — can serve as a visual reminder.

Not all medications can go into an organizer, though, says Maier. Some can only be stored in their original container to work effectively, she says. Some need to be kept in the refrigerator.

In those cases, don’t forget to list the medications on the calendar. Using a pill organizer and calendar together can make it easier for you to remember to take all of your medications.

Use an app

Apps can help you keep track of when you need to take your medications. And they work. Studies show that people who use apps are approximately twice as likely to take their medications as prescribed.4

Apps can send you notifications or alert you, even if the screen on your smartphone or other electronic device is in locked mode. They may also provide you with information about potential drug interactions. If an app suggests a potential interaction, contact your provider or pharmacist immediately.

UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage members with prescription drug coverage can download the UnitedHealthcare® app to view drug coverage details and more.

Talk to a provider

There are many reasons why people don’t take their medications as prescribed.1 People also may stop taking a medication because of potential side effects or because it doesn’t seem to be working. Medications help with your medical conditions and not taking your medications can be problematic to your health.

Sometimes, the medication just doesn’t fit the person’s lifestyle. For example, maybe you’re supposed to take a medication at breakfast. If you typically rise late and skip breakfast, that could be a problem, says Maier.

In a situation like this, Maier recommends trying out the medication and seeing if your routine changes. “But if it doesn’t, tell your doctor,” she says. “Your provider might be able to prescribe an alternative medication that fits your schedule better.”

If the price of a medication is a concern, mention it to your provider. There may be a generic or appropriate alternative medication that costs less. You should also talk to your provider about any other questions or concerns you have about your medications. Your provider can help you come up with a plan to address any issues you are having with your medications.1

“The best medication is the one that you know you’re going to take,” Maier says. Having an organizational system in place can decrease the stress of remembering all the details. It’s an important part of helping you live healthier.

Did you know that different pharmacies offer different prices on prescription medications? Already a UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage member with prescription drug coverage?

Already a UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage member?

Managing medications is important to overall health. Have prescription drug coverage? View, price and order medications all in one place.