Living with multiple medicines: Keeping a medicines list

Listen to patients taking multiple medicines talk about how keeping a medicines list, including such info as brand names, active ingredients, dose & when taken, help them manage their medications.

Many of the people we spoke to keep a medicines list, which is encouraged by the five health professionals we also spoke to. The kind of information on people’s lists includes the brand name of the medicine; the active ingredients; the dose and when it is taken; when they started the medicine; their medical history; their photo; contact details for family, next of kin, GP and specialists; the condition or purpose for which they are taking the medicine; and the date when the list was last updated.

Some people have devised their own list, whereas others use a document or template provided through community organisations or from reputable health organisations’ websites. Others receive a computer printout of their medicines and other relevant information from their GP, or when they were discharged from hospital.

Keeping a list is particularly important for people whose mood or cognitive functioning (such as memory) may be affected by their conditions or as side effects of the medicines they are taking. One person we spoke to keeps copies of her medicines list in several places, as her conditions can make her feel ‘disoriented’ and ‘vague’. Having these lists means that she can keep track of what she needs to take and when, wherever she is.

Several people also keep a medicines list for their own information, or as part of their system for managing their medicines. Having a clear list that shows when each medicine needs to be taken means they are less likely to become confused and make a mistake with their medicines.


In case of emergencies

One of the main reasons people keep a medicines list is in case of an emergency situation. For this reason, the medicines list is often carried on them at all times. They usually tell family members where the list can be found so paramedic, hospital or other emergency or medical staff can be informed in the event they are very ill, unconscious or confused and cannot communicate for themselves.

Suzanne was recently in the situation of having to go to a hospital that could not access her medical records from the usual hospital she attends. Her family know about her medicines list in case of an emergency.

It also becomes increasingly difficult to remember all the necessary information as the number of medicines increases. This is a particular problem when health professionals ask them about their medication. A number of people have found themselves in embarrassing situations where they knew they were on more medicines than they could remember. This also worried them, as they were aware that doctors need to know what they are taking so they can be treated appropriately and effectively.

Those who have a medicines list find it is extremely helpful when communicating to health professionals, especially in hospital where they see a number of consultants who all need to know what medicines they are taking.

Mary started keeping a medicines list after her husband suggested it to her, because she once had to go to hospital and could not remember all of her medicines to tell the doctor.

Suzanne found it helpful to have her list when she was recently in hospital and saw several different doctors, who all needed to know about her medicines and medical history.


Electronic and paper-based lists

There are some electronic alternatives to paper-based medicines lists. Two of the people we spoke to use smartphone apps to record the details of their medicines. There are a number of free apps available and they had each tried several before settling on the one that works for them. The advantages are that they can be updated quickly and easily and are legible to health professionals who need to know what they are taking.

Apps can often hold a considerable amount of information. There are some disadvantages, such as reminder alarms that cannot be set at a volume that can be heard. Some people do not use them because of a concern that mobile phones cannot be used in hospitals and, since their phones are password-protected, they cannot be accessed by anyone else in an emergency situation.

Glenn finds it much easier to use a smartphone app for his medicines list, for his own information and when communicating with health professionals.

Karen keeps a paper-based medicines list in case she needs an ambulance. She also uses a free app that includes reminders and can keep a record of how she feels and what pain medication she has taken.

Doctors can also print off lists in the practice during a visit, which some of the people we spoke to prefer. It saves them time creating their own and means that they can be certain they and their doctor have the same understanding of the medicines they are currently taking. People are often given a medicines list when they are discharged from hospital.


The most important consideration

The most important aspect of any medicines list is that the information is accurate and up to date.

Dr Elisabeth Wearne, GP, says it is easy to print off medicines lists for patients from her practice software and discuss their medicines with them. She believes that it is a good idea for patients to keep a current medicines list in whatever format they feel comfortable with.

Associate Professor Sarah Hilmer, clinical pharmacologist and geriatrician, points out that the most important thing about medicines lists is not the form they take, but that the information they contain is current.


What people also talk about


The Living with multiple medicines project was developed in collaboration with

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