Not taking prescribed medication Ė noncompliance Ė can have serious
health consequences. The reasons why people forget or donít take
medications are varied. Maybe the doctor didnít explain how to take
it properly. Maybe they feel better and think they donít need the
medicine anymore. Maybe they just forgot.
Anyone who cares for someone with a chronic illness for very long
will soon realize there is much to be learned about how to organize
medications. There are many ways to remind patients which
medications to take when. In addition, what about those patients who
insist on taking medications on their own? Are there ways to remind
them about medicines that are unobtrusive and fit into the routine
of every day life? How about a system that can help several
caregivers adapt to the schedule without too much explanation?
The most common type of medication system is the simple box with
slots for different times of day. Caregivers sort out medications
generally up to one week in advance and place it in the correct
slot. At the appropriate time, the patient or the caregiver can tell
at a momentís glance which medicines need to be taken when.
Pill boxes can be purchased at almost any store, whether itís your
local drug store or your larger discount stores. Depending on the
number of doses needed every day will determine the type purchases.
Cost isnít generally a factor since these are the least expensive
option on the market today, starting generally at less than $10.
There are electronic pill boxes that can sound an alarm and store
medications at the same time. These are more expensive depending on
the brand ordered and the number of features required by the patient
for their medication system.
There are a variety of reminder alarms on the market today. These
can range from a watch that the patient or caregiver wears with
alarms that sound at various times throughout the day to computer
software that can be programmed to let people know when it is time
to take the medication.
Watches can be programmed with specific medication information,
patientís name, doctorís name, and a variety of other information
depending on the type of watch ordered. Alarms can be set to vibrate
or emit an electronic alarm when it is time to take a new medicine.
Patients who may have difficulty seeing smaller print may have
difficulty with this type of reminder. In addition, the elderly are
sometimes bothered by electronic beeps emitted by some of these
watches, so this may be a factor when making this decision.
Other electronic alarms can look similar to an alarm clock and have
settings for several different medications. These need to be
programmed in advance by the caregiver so that the patient is not
easily confused by the device. One alarm vibrates strong enough when
placed inside a pillowcase that it will wake the patient to remind
them that they need to take medication.
Another option is a pager device that when set, can sound an alarm
or vibrate to remind patients to take their medications. Pagers
generally have a larger digital read-out than does a watch, so this
option may work better for sight-impaired patients.
Software systems may work well for caregivers who are computer-savvy
and have time to devote to managing the system. In addition, some
software programs on the market can show trends in giving medication
and offer report features that allow physicians to track compliance
to dosing instructions. Specialized software, however, may not be
needed, as a simple calendar function can offer the ability to
remind caregivers when medicines need to be administered. As with
any other medication system, software needs to be programmed in
order to be utilized effectively.
Electronic reminder systems are relatively inexpensive, but not
generally covered by insurance. Prices can start as low as $35 for
alarms and depending on the number of features needed, the price
will increase proportionately. There are numerous websites that
carry these products (See ďShopping for Reminder SystemsĒ) so that
consumers on a limited income can make wise decisions with their
Finally, there are options for individuals who want to not only
program a reminder, but dispense the medications at the same time.
This may be an excellent option for the caregiver who is away from
the home at various times of the day. It helps remind the patient
when to take the necessary medications, yet it also serves to
dispense the medications at the same time. There are no bottles to
sift through and no opportunity to take too much or not enough of a
particular medication. Some dispensers can even accept liquid
Dispensers are the most expensive option on the market, however, and
may not easily fit into every budget. Programming needs to be done
in advance and the caregiver will want to monitor the system to be
certain that it is working correctly before depending on it for
dispensing medication while they are away for an extended period.
Also, the dispenser may or may not be portable within the house as
they often require an outlet rather than batteries. Some of these
can also be remotely monitored to ensure patient compliance and to
be certain that the dispenser is working properly. Remote monitoring
is generally available for a monthly subscription. In order to
provide remote monitoring, a phone outlet is needed as well.
Depending on the situation in the home, there are a variety of
options available on the market. If caregiving is provided remotely
or dispersed throughout the day, it may be more expensive to
purchase a pill dispenser. On the other hand, some caregivers prefer
the peace of mind that it provides.
Likewise, some patients prefer a smaller, more discrete option that
a watch or pager provides. Pill boxes work well for many patients
who need only to have the medication separated for them and they can
take them on the needed schedule. Some caregivers prefer a written
schedule, and thus, can take advantage of software systems that are
available today. Designing the medication system in advance will
help the caregiver and patient decide which reminder system will
work in the household.
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