4 Tips for Organizing Medication

Nurse Next Door

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Medication Management is a hot topic. And it should be. Medication confusion and home medication errors account for additional health expenses, hospital readmissions and even falls at home. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (2012) noted that half of the people who go home from the hospital have medication errors and problems within the first month of discharge. According to an article in Drugs & Aging (2005), as many as 200,000 people may die of medication-related problems each year in the United States. 


Managing medications can be a real headache for some patients and their families, as it requires time and attention to detail. And the headaches are no surprise when we consider the following circumstances that can contribute to the confusion:

Pharmacy substitutions – Pharmacies may change the brand of pill they dispense for your prescription (for example, substituting a generic brand). This usually means you’ll receive pills of a different size, color or shape even though you’ve been on the “same” medication for a long time. 

Doctor to doctor communication – A cardiologist may reduce a medication from twice a day to once a day, but the primary care doctor has no idea.

Stop that. Start this. – Medication changes are almost inevitable if you’ve been at the hospital or at a rehab facility. Additions or deletions from your daily med lineup can be confusing to a newly discharged patient. And if old medications are not disposed of or stored away, the confusion can be compounded.

So let’s do this!

Let’s go from muddled to methodical and get those medications under control for yourself or for someone in your care. Below are 4 easy, but important, steps you can take to gain better peace of mind and #HappierAging when it comes to dealing with meds.

1. Make the Mother List

Make one list identifying all medications that you and everyone in your circle (including your doctor) can reference. Keep it updated. 


Here is a printable one that Nurse Next Door uses. If you’d like to complete a form online, you can find one here.

Whether you use a template or create your own, these are the essentials of a complete medication list: 

    • Medication Name(s)
    • Medication Dose (i.e. 10 mg, 5 mL 1 tsp, etc.)
    • Medication Amount (i.e. 1 tab or ½ tab) – This is the amount that you are supposed to take.
    • Frequency – How often and when?
    • Route – How is it taken (orally, sublingually, intravenously, etc.)?
    • Purpose – Some medications are used for different things

Keep your list with you in a wallet or purse when you leave home and especially when you travel.  And remember, keep your list updated!

2. Commit to one pharmacy


Find one you like and stick with it. All your prescriptions should be dispensed from here. Get to know the pharmacists and don’t hesitate to ask questions, even if it concerns an over-the-counter medicine. Your pharmacy may also deliver prescriptions right to your door. Just ask!

3. Choose a medication pillbox or automated dispensing system

Visit your pharmacy and purchase a medication planner, also called a pillbox. If your medication doesn’t change often, go for the monthly one. If your medications are changing frequently, a two-week box may be better to get you started. Tips for choosing a medication planner:

Look for one that has big enough tabs for you to see and operate. Ezy Dose® Pill Planners and Medtime Planners®  come in a variety of sizes. The Jon Locked Pill Dispenser adds another layer of convenience and assurance by locking all the tabs until it is time to dispense the medications. No more worries about spilling a planner and getting mixed up!

The first time you set these up, you may need to reorder some medications so you have enough to fill all your boxes and get all your meds on the same ordering cycle. Some medications will run out earlier than others and you don’t want to start getting confused about what medications are in the planners and which ones aren’t.

Always get a medication planner that has the correct time slots for you. For example, if you take medications three times a day, don’t get a pill planner that only has morning and night! This will cause more confusion. 

You may want to consider an automatic pill dispenser. With a little bit of time invested up-front, these work great and can even let a caregiver know via text messaging when medication is dispensed or if a dose was missed. It’s still a good idea to keep a pillbox on hand for vacations or times you’ll be away from home. Read more about automated dispensing systems in one of our past posts, Medication Management Tips and Tools.

Here is an example of how an automated dispensing system can support seniors’ independence to continue to live at home, empower caregivers and give their family members peace of mind:

4. Talk, talk, talk to your doctor

Did you know that the more medications you take, the bigger the chance you have of developing side effects related to those medications? Polypharmacy (when you take more than one medication) significantly contributes to medication-related issues, especially in the elderly. Talk to your doctor about:

– Consolidating or even discontinuing some medications 

– Minimizing the times you have to take medications. Taking meds with less frequency during the day makes it easier to remember to take them. Instead of taking medications 4 or 5 times a day, see if you and your doctor can work to get your schedule down to 1 or 2 times a day.

– Whether medications are appropriate for someone your age. You can do a little homework by reviewing the Beers Criteria for Geriatric Medication Safety to see if any medications you take could be cause for concern. Ask your doctor if he/she uses the Beers Criteria.


As you talk to your doctor or the doctor of a loved one, be the advocate. Be the advocate by asking questions, sharing ideas, relaying symptoms and possible side-effects and by talking about anything that is concerning to you. Talk, talk talk!

Get to it! Make your list, choose your medication management planner (and use it consistently), commit to one pharmacy, and stay in communication with your doctor. 

Did you know that Nurse Next Door’s Caregivers can accompany our clients on doctor appointments and take notes? If you need assistance with medication management, call us! We can help! Here’s an overview of our Medication Management program*.

*= Depending on state or provincial regulations, not all Nurse Next Door locations may be able to or are required to provide medical/skilled care. Please contact us for further information on what services we can provide in your area.

Get complete peace of mind. Nurse Next Door is one of your biggest advocates as you and your family navigates through the medical system. Please call +1(877) 588-8609 to arrange your FREE Caring Consult.

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