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Ten High-Tech Ways to Remember to Take Meds

Approximately three out of four Americans find it hard to take their prescribed medications as directed.

Photo by: Nataliya Vaitkevich

Approximately three out of four Americans struggle to take their prescribed medications as directed. The effects of this difficulty can be tremendous: patients with chronic conditions who don’t regularly take their medication can see their conditions worsen. The patient-clinician relationship can deteriorate if clinicians don’t think patients are taking medical advice or their condition seriously. Healthcare costs can also increase when patients don’t take their medication because their condition worsens or they need more clinic visits.

Here’s a look at the tech options, such as using smartphone reminders or trying out different apps.

1. Set Alarms

Set alarms on your cell phone, smartphone, watch, or activity tracker that remind you to take your medication. If you experience alarm fatigue—ignoring your phone’s alarms after a while because you hear them too often—consider using a special ringtone, especially for your medication. You could go for humor and use songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” (about a drug dealer) or Huey Lewis’s 1984 hit “I Want a New Drug.” (Here are 20 other pop songs about love as a drug.) Or, you could use a specific sound that you don’t use for any other alarms that you come to associate with taking your medication.

2. Use Calendar Alerts

This is similar to an alarm, but instead of having a ringtone go off one time on your phone (or multiple times if you keep snoozing it), a calendar reminder can be set to have multiple reminders. For example, iPhones allow two reminders for a calendar item so that you can set a reminder for five minutes and one hour before a calendar event. If you don’t take your meds the first time, you might the second time. Even better, you can adjust your phone settings to ensure the reminder stays on your locked screen even after the event has passed if you don’t clear it. Even if you didn’t take the meds one hour or five minutes before the event, you’ll see it each time you look at your phone until you dismiss it.

3. Use a Medical Watch

You could purchase a watch specifically to remind you to take your medication. One of these won’t allow you to forget what you set an alarm for on a watch or can be used to program alarms for different types of medication you must take at different times during the day. We can’t vouch for specific brands, but you can see some examples here and here. This Cadex medical alert watch, for example, allows you to set up to 12 alarms with customizable text associated with each alarm and lets you program information such as allergies, your medical conditions, your address, your medications, your medical insurance information, and your healthcare providers.

4. Carry a Portable Pill Timer Device

These are small alarm devices explicitly designed to remind you to take your medication. They’re convenient for sitting on a desk, on the kitchen counter, or in the car. The website e-pill recommends a few here.

5. Use a TimeCap Bottle

This strategy doesn’t use any sounds or notifications to remind you when to take your medication, but it tracks the last time you opened the bottle to know how much time has passed since your last dose. These are helpful if you frequently forget whether you took your medication. Or, if you did forget, they can help you decide whether you need to take a single or double dose to catch up, depending on what the healthcare provider advises. In addition to one made by e-pill, several others exist, including small pocket-sized ones.

6. Use Pill Box Timers

Like the TimeCap bottles, these are pill boxes with built-in alarms. The extra advantage of these is that you must get up and go to the pillbox or bottle to turn them off. You’re already there, so you might as well take your medication before you forget again.

7. Go High-Tech with Pill Boxes

Automatic pill dispensers are a lot pricier than the two options above. They may only be ideal for people who take many medications or have many complex instructions, such as different medications that must be taken at specific times throughout the day. However, these can be a godsend for people with complex conditions or following a strict regimen, such as for cancer treatment. The same is true for people with dementia, especially if their caregivers can only visit at certain times each day. These devices not only store all the medications you need and have alarms for when to take each drug but also automatically dispense the drug when needed. See some examples here and here and this comparison chart from e-pill.

8. Ask Alexa, Siri, or Rosie to Help

In an era where people use smart devices throughout their house, there are plenty of opportunities to ask personal assistant devices to remind you of things you need to do. Though they're the most common, there are more smart speakers besides Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. For example, Rosie’s purpose is explicitly to issue reminders recorded in your voice.

9. Use a Pill Packaging Service

Some services specifically package your pills into small packets according to when you need to take them. Here are several pill packaging services:

10. Use Pill Reminder Mobile Apps

As always, there’s an app for that! There are more than a few, perhaps enough to be overwhelming. Here are several of the most highly rated medical reminder apps available for both iOS and Android smartphones:

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