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Simplify Taking Your Prescription Medications

March 7, 2011

According to a research study led by Michael Wolf, PhD, an associate professor of medicine and learning sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and published in a recent issue of issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, there is so much variation in the way prescriptions are written by physicians and labeled by pharmacists that patients may not realize which ones they can take at the same time, leading some patients to take different pills 7 or more times a day.

In a test setting, the researchers showed a group of participants 7 different medications and asked them to create a schedule for taking them properly. With a complete understanding of each drug’s dosing directions, it was possible to take them all in just 4 doses spread across the day, but only about 15% of participants realized that. Almost 30% said they would need to take pills 7 times a day to get them all in—sometimes it was because they were unsure of any possible negative interactions and wanted to be safe by separating them. Ironically, however, trying to remember to take various pills 7 times over the course of each day can actually lead to mistakes and missed doses.

The Northwestern researchers have proposed that the medical community adopt a universal dosing standard of 4 daily time intervals—morning, noon, evening, bedtime—thereby helping patients simplify and safely use complex prescription regimens. Until such a system is implemented, consider reviewing all prescriptions you and your loved ones take with your primary care physician or a trusted pharmacist and asking if any of the drugs can be taken together and at what times during the day. Get a written schedule and organize your medication bottles accordingly. Consider a pill organizer if you’re not already using one. You may find that you can consolidate some, if not all, of your meds and streamline the task considerably.