Managing Multiple Medications

Are you having a hard time managing your medication routine? To ensure effectiveness and avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions, it's important to take each of your medications in the dose and at the time prescribed by your healthcare provider. But for many patients and caregivers, this isn't always easy.

Several factors determine whether you'll successfully manage your medications. These factors include your physical and mental health, stress levels, relationships with healthcare providers, and the types of medications and supplements you take, not to mention your memory and organizational skills. But whether you're struggling to remember to take medications or are having a hard time arranging your schedule to accommodate doctor's orders, these tips will help you get on track.

Set Yourself up for Success

If you routinely have trouble sticking to your medication schedule, speak to your physician immediately, suggests cardiologist William A. Tansey III, MD, of Summit Medical Group in New Jersey. And whether you are the patient or the caregiver, these tips can help you manage multiple medications:

1. Communicate with all of your healthcare providers about all of your medications. Be sure that everyone who takes care of your health needs, especially those who provide drug prescriptions, are aware of all the medications you take. So if you are seeing one doctor about high cholesterol and another about anxiety, make sure they both know about the medications the other is prescribing. This includes over-the-counter medications, supplements, and vitamins as well as prescription drugs. This will help prevent dangerous drug interactions and maintain effectiveness.

2. Keep a written record of all medications and supplements taken, when they're taken, and in what dose. A computer record is easily updated and can be printed out to bring to an appointment with a healthcare provider.

3. Ask if your pharmacy offers medication management tools. Thanks to your phone or computer, you may be able to order refills, set up automatic refills, and print out prescription records. Your pharmacy may even have delivery service, if you need it.

4. Try out new technology. Medication reminder apps—such as Medcoach and Medisafe can be downloaded to your smart phone or tablet. These apps have alert systems that will remind you which medications to take, and when.

5. Organize your medications in a pill box marked with the days of the week. And if you take medications both morning and night, look for a box that is also divided into a.m. and p.m.

6. Keep Reminders Visible If you can’t depend on technology, use a chalkboard, post-it notes, to-do lists, and other reminders posted in where you can't miss them, such as on the refrigerator door or the bathroom mirror.

7. Store all medications in one place. An ideal storage spot is someplace where medications are easily accessed and safe from spillage. Try to keep medications organized on their own shelf or other space, separate from non-medical items and keep out of the reach of children. Store refrigerated medication in its own spot in the fridge, where it stands out and away from foods. If more than one person in the home takes multiple medications, each person should have their own separate storage place.

8. Store and take medications in a well-lit area. If you take multiple medications, this will help you ensure you're taking the right one(s)!

9. Look around. After you take your medications, check the table, counter or floor nearby, in case you dropped any pills.

10. Always put your medications back in the same place. This will help you develop a routine, and ensure that your meds are where you expect them to be next time.

11. If you're a caregiver, pay attention to signs that self-administered medications aren't being taken as directed. If the person you care for complains that they are not feeling well, not coping well with their medication regimen, or thinks their condition is getting worse, they could be taking their medications improperly. If you are the regular caregiver for someone with cognitive (thinking) problems who might inadvertently take the wrong medication or the wrong dose on their own, consider storing medications and supplements in a locked box.

William A. Tansey III, MD, reviewed this article.


William A Tansey III, MD. Email to author January 26, 2016.

Theofilou P. "Factors Affecting Level of Compliance in Chronic Patients." Internal Med: Open Access 2011;2(1):1000e106.

Mira JJ, Guilabert M, Carrillo I, et al. "Use of QR and EAN-13 Codes by Older Patients Taking Multiple Medications for a Safer Use of Medication." International J of Med Informatics. June 2015;84(6):406-412.

Lang A, Macdonald M, Marck P, et al. "Seniors Managing Multiple Medications: Using Mixed Methods to View the Home Care Safety Lens." BMC Health Services Research. 2015; 15:548 doi: 10.1186/s12913-015-1193-5.