Do you take your medications on time? Are you certain that you are taking them correctly? As a nurse and dietitian, I ask these questions when I evaluate my patients for the first time. I find that sometimes people have been taking medications incorrectly for months or even years.

how to take medication correctlyThis blog will discuss 14 points for you to discuss with your health care team to make sure you are taking your medications correctly.  You want to get the benefits of all the medications you take and do not potentially put yourself in harm’s way. The points in this article were taken from the government publication: “Your Medicine: Questions to ask before Taking Medicine.” Examples are used to explain these points for people that have diabetes. 

1. Why do I need this medication?

Is it for a new problem? Why is this medication important to take?

2. What is the name of this medication?

Please give me information with both the generic name (non-commercial) and the brand (trade) name. Is it important that the pharmacist give the brand name or will the generic drug be just as effective? 

Some medications do differ by brand names. Many people with diabetes also take thyroid medication. It is recommended by many endocrinologists to stick to one brand as they may not have the same effect on the body. With all medications, generic medications do have the same active ingredients but the binding material may be different. In some cases these may affect the length of time the medication is effective. Check also if you have an allergy or an intolerance to a substance that potentially is in the binding ingredient. Make sure your pharmacist is has information on allergies or intolerances so you get medications that will not harm you. (1) 

At what time(s) should I take this medication and how should I take it? Most medications for diabetes are recommended at specific times. An example is rapid acting insulin. It is usually suggested to take it no more than 15 minutes before a meal.

You should know if a medication should be taken on an empty stomach or with food. Some medications need not only an empty stomach but need to be taken before eating anything for a specific time period. An example take at least one hour before breakfast with a full 8 ounces of water. Make sure there are no special food restrictions that you need to watch out for with certain medications. Insulin and other injectable medications require for you to learn proper injection technique.  

4. Is there anything I need to do before taking the medication?

Should I stop taking any medications that I currently take? Should I test my blood glucose before taking the medication? Is there anything I need to do based on the testing? (Rapid acting insulin may need to be adjusted) Are there any medications that I need to take at a certain time before my diabetes medication?

5. Are there any food or drug interactions I need to be careful of?

Ask about over the counter medications and supplements as well as the prescribed medications you take. Can I take this drug with other medications?

6. What happens if I skip a dose of the medication?

Should I take it as soon as I realize? Should I call the doctor? Should I take my blood glucose? Should I just skip the dose?

7. Do I need to take any tests to make sure the medication is working?

If it causes my blood glucose to drop, how soon will I see the effects? Do I need to have a blood draw for the medication and how frequently?

8. What can go wrong with taking the medication?

What types of adverse reactions may be seen and what do I do if I have one? 

9. What are the instructions for medication storage?

Will the medication break down with extremes in temperature or if I store it in the bathroom where it can be humid? If I get my medication through a mail order program, is there a problem if it is left out on the porch? 

10.  Ask the pharmacist what the medication should look like.

What color, shape and size should it be? Know this and check your medications before you leave the pharmacy. If your doctor changes the dose, will the color of the medication change? Ask the pharmacist if you have questions or concerns.

11.  Call your insurance and see what the maximum dose that you can get once the doctor knows you need and tolerate the medication.

Can you get a 30, 60 or 90 day prescription with your plan? What time period works best for you? 

12. How should I keep track of taking medications?

  • Some medications can be put in a weekly pill box. Some pill boxes have compartments for different times of the day. 
  • A medication sheet where you check off the medication as taken is very helpful. 
  • You can also ask your pharmacist to put your medications in a calendar card which is sometimes called a blister card. 

13. What reminders can I use to take medication?

  • There are reminder services available online to give a call when medication is due. Look on line to see what is available to you. 
  • You may want to set your phone to ring at a certain time to remind you to take your medication.
  • There are alarm pill boxes that you can carry with you throughout your day. An example is one that can alarm you up to 37 times per day. Ask your pharmacist for suggestions on the best one to pick if you have a special need. An example is to have an automated pill box that will help an elderly person remember to take their medications.

14. Ask your pharmacist, doctor and diabetes educator for written information that you can understand on all of your medications.

Keep a record of all the medications you take using The US Department of Health and Human Services “My Medication Record”.

Never stop a medication without telling your doctor or having him/her tell you to stop if there are certain side effects.