More than half the people in the United States are taking at least one prescription drug (187 million, 58 percent), according to the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation, and tens of thousands of those people are dying annually because they don’t follow their medication directions.
With people taking a dozen or more pills daily becoming more common—along with instructions on dosages, frequency, whether they are taken with food or on an empty stomach, possible side effects—usage mistakes happen regularly.
The U.S. Surgeon General in 2012 estimated that 75 percent of Americans have trouble taking their medicine as directed, and about 125,000 people die every year due to a lack of what doctors refer to as drug adherence.
However, helping consumers monitor their medication schedules (beyond traditional pill boxes and worksheets) are dozens of smartphone apps, many being free.
A Yahoo Finance survey in March of nearly 50 medication/pill reminder apps found several features the best ones had in common:
- Entering a medication’s name is easy. With so many medicine names being long and obscure, having the app auto-complete a name after typing in the first few letters is valuable for accuracy and time-saving.
- Pictures of pills. Some apps allow you to take a photo of your pills, or choose from a range of pill shapes and colors. The top-rated apps are linked to medicine databases and already know what the meds look like.
- Ease of entering time reminders. Many apps will automatically set evenly spaced times to take a pill if you enter “3x daily” rather than manually entering times, and the best ones will reset the intervals automatically if a pill is taken later than a scheduled time.
- Drug warnings. Don’t settle for an app that doesn’t have any information about the drugs you have entered. Highly rated apps provide a page of information about a medication, with some even automatically warning a user if two drugs are entered that shouldn’t be taken together.
- Family monitoring. The best apps allow the user to track other family members’ medications so a child or grandparent can be reminded to take their pill, and some provide remote monitoring—for example, if a family member doesn’t tap “Done” after taking their medication, an alert on your phone will let you know.
- A timeline and history. Rather than just using reminders when it is time to take a medication, many apps show a timeline of upcoming pills due to be taken. Also, look for an app that tracks your history of taking medications so that you can either send a report to a doctor or print it out and take it to your next doctor’s appointment.
- Rescheduling options. More advanced tracking apps allow the user to indicate either “Taken” or “Missed” for each reminder, and some also offer options for “Skip” or “Postpone” a dose. For example, the user may want to tap “Skip” (and be reminded later) if they decided a dose of pain medication wasn’t necessary at that time.
With so many tracking app choices for both iPhone and Android, don’t settle for one that’s second-rate—taking the right medication at the right time in the right amount is too important.
For information about specific medicines and potential dangers when taking multiple drugs in unison, it’s always a good idea to consult a pharmacist. Consumers can look up the license of a pharmacist on the California Board of Pharmacy website (www.pharmacy.ca.gov).