Managing Medications Part IV: Popper Tools

Smart phone with health app.
Continuing our exploration of how to manage all those crazy pills and refills and pharmacy trips, and whatever else—or helping your child or loved one deal with this process—I’d like to introduce a number of tools I’ve used and witnessed that may be helpful in honing your routine.

Keeping Track

While we’ve previously covered the difficulty of finding a truly great pill organizer, I should mention a couple of basic things: Being the grand-daddy of all medical accessories, of course a pill organizer is a handy tool to sort and carry your pills for the day or week. But it’s also a great way to keep track of whether you’ve taken your medicine or not, which can be a surprisingly difficult task at times. The details of pill-minding can easily take a back seat when you’re preoccupied with other burdens of illness. In cases like this, taking notes can be an essential method to keep track. I’ve had to do it sometimes… especially when I’m feeling miserable, and/or when the medications themselves make it worse by adding drowsiness or other side effects to the mix.

Electronic Tools & Apps

There are a number of electronic tools that can be helpful in managing medications. Some people use calendars and make spreadsheets to track the meds they’ve taken and at what time. But there is also a wide variety of custom software solutions out there as well. Many are available for Mac or PC, and I am currently exploring the options available for smart phones. I have an Android phone, but the iPhone also has many available.

I’ve found everything from advanced alarm clocks and calendars to dedicated medication reminder apps that have sophisticated alert systems and logging features to help you remember and keep track. Many of these also monitor your inventory and remind you when it’s time to refill. Some even have the capability to send a log file to your email address for easy printing or saving. I have also found applications developed by pharmacy chains to manage and order prescriptions from your phone. Even if you have a simple cell phone, the basic alarm clock can be very useful. In fact, that’s been my primary reminder system for many years. There are so many possibilities emerging for that phone/computer in your pocket that I am planning a series of columns on that topic alone. Stay tuned for that adventure.

Pill Cutters

Pill Cutter
Next on my list is a pill cutter. I never really thought I needed one until I finally bought one and suddenly realized I should have done so much sooner. It’s highly recommended, and they’re not just for old people. Anyone can have trouble breaking pills, even the pre-segmented ones, and the small ones can be extra tricky. Plus, even if you do manage to break them apart by hand they rarely split evenly that way. I have to adjust my dosages periodically and it’s nice to be able to divide them accurately. Pill splitters are not expensive, and the ones I’ve tried all work pretty much the same. It’s definitely a handy addition to your tool box. An X-Acto knife will do the trick too, but it’s not as elegant and doesn’t clean up after itself like the real things do. Plus, it’s generally preferable to not draw blood in the process. We get enough of that from the phlebotomist. (I’m pretty sure I’ll never tire of that word.)


Despite the fact that most people use a bathroom medicine cabinet automatically without ever stopping to thinking about it, I don’t really find it to be a convenient location to store my meds, and there are certainly better places to divvy up the week’s assortment into my organizer. Instead, I put all my prescriptions on a shelf in my home office, using a zippered pouch to keep them together (which also makes it handy to grab and pack them when I travel). This allows me to easily pull them out and do the organizing at my desk instead of having to stand in the bathroom where I might drop things down the drain or other nastier places. (Obviously, if you have kids or pets living in or visiting your home, then a more secure solution is probably in order.) This may seem like a trite suggestion, but you’d be surprised how common it is to habitually do things in traditional ways without ever really questioning whether there are better options.

Improving Your Routine

And that brings us to the real point of this series of columns. It’s a good thing to put some analytical thought into your routines, otherwise you may end up following old habits—or models you learned from someone else, for no better reason than familiarity. Try to break out of your preconceptions; it might help you develop some new approaches specifically tailored to your current needs. A little intentionality to your methods can make a big difference.

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Tags: Coping tools , Emerging Technologies , Supplies/Accessories/Equipment , Tips ('How-Tos')

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.