Getting to know your medications

In chronic illness, treatment plans can quickly get complicated. While following yours as well as possible can keep you safe and help you feel better, if your plan feels confusing and overwhelming, you are not alone. One in three chronic patients don’t fully understand their doctor’s instructions.

“Pills” by Ben Harvey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Pills” by Ben Harvey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Be proactive to avoid joining the more than one-third of hospital admissions related to medicine that result from simple user error (according to the American Heart Association, which also offers many useful resources for managing medications).

Once you have and understand your diagnoses, getting to know your medications is an important step in sticking to a treatment plan.


Start with what you can find on your own.

Make a list of all your medications including vitamins or supplements, who prescribed them and if you can find it, what they do. Here is a detailed list template including instructions for how to use it.


Fill in the gaps.

Don’t know the purpose or side effects of some of your drugs? Not sure what time of day you were supposed to take it? You can often find some of this information on the pill bottle or through the FDA’s website. But your safest bet is talking to your pharmacist.

Pharmacists are very willing and happy to help you understand your medications. That’s their expertise. Recording their answers on your list by hand can help you understand better. However, pharmacies should be able to print information for you as well. Here are some questions you might ask:

Use the same pharmacy for all of your prescriptions, so that pharmacists are able to watch for possible negative interactions between drugs.


Don’t be afraid to ask twice.

If you have any remaining questions, go back to your health care provider. Often a simple phone call to the office can do the trick, but if you find yourself uncertain, schedule another appointment.


Next step: Find a routine.

Now that you understand how to take and store each of your medications, you can feel safer during this important part of your daily routine.

Of course, your treatment plan might involve new nutrition and exercise considerations, and even lifestyle adjustments such as wearing CPAP or oxygen or attending a class in addition to medications. Balancing all of these in pursuit of better health starts with understanding each element, knowing its purpose and impact, and then coming up with a management routine that works for you.

Find resources to help. You likely won’t instantly or naturally understand everything, so take one step at a time. Medications are a good place to start.

To learn more about why taking your medications is so important, check out: A Dose of Adherence.


For even more:


Contact us

Did you enjoy this story? Email us your comments and questions and let's keep the conversation going. We encourage you to engage with us and other readers by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Every person's journey is unique, and every perspective is valuable to us.