Being an Active Part of Your Own Health Care Team, Part I

People who have chronic or complex health issues need to take an active role in their own health care. That doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and in fact, it runs counter to the traditional way of interacting with “Doctor God” that I, for one, learned from my own parents. In this series, we’ll talk about some of the things we can do to take an active role in our own health care.

First, we’ll talk about medications. Many of us take a cocktail of medications and supplements every day, prescribed by everyone from our primary care providers to pain management specialists, rheumatologists, allergists, and neurologists. Keeping up with them can be troublesome. Just remembering to take them can be difficult!

Photo by Laurynas Mereckas on Unsplash
I know if I don’t set up my big weekly medication box once a week, I’m just lost. I found it online and it is divided into nice, large compartments with four sections for each day of the week. (The individual day sections can be removed to take with you during the day.) I use the box and an app on my phone to remember to take my meds, and I’m fully compliant. Before I set up that system, I couldn’t manage to remember to take my medications until I was already in really bad pain or having symptoms that reminded me of something else I’d forgotten to take.

If you set up a medicine box and reminders, you only have to think about what to take when once a week. You can even get a caregiver or other helper to do the setup for you, if necessary. I usually check my medicine bottles a couple of days ahead of time to be sure I don’t need any refills.

Speaking of refills, running to the pharmacy can be a real nuisance when you feel like crap. It’s so much nicer to have your medicine come to you! If your health plan offers a mail-order pharmacy option, check into it. It can save time and money since most health plans offer lower co-pays when you use the mail-order option. Add in the fact that you can often get a 90-day supply of medication rather than a 30-day supply that way, necessitating fewer refills, and it’s a no-brainer. Some drugs, of course, are limited so you can’t fill them that way, but use it when you can.

It’s important to keep every member of your health care team up to date on the treatments you’re receiving, especially the medications and supplements you take. It’s also important to have a list with you, in case you’re in an accident. If you get in the habit of doing so, you’ll never again have to rack your brains while trying to remember how that weird name is spelled or what the exact dosage of those three different white pills you take is. That’s just not what you need to be worrying about during an emergency, especially. I keep a list on my phone (thank you Apple Health!) but I also keep a printed list in my purse so that I can simply hand it off to medical personnel. (See forms here to help you get started.)

Good doctors will look at your medications before prescribing anything new, checking for known interactions, but few of them are really well-educated regarding medications, and too many of them just know whatever a pharmaceutical salesman has told them. That’s why a good pharmacy with a pharmacist you can trust is vital. I cannot stress this enough: get all of your prescriptions filled at one pharmacy and cultivate a relationship with your pharmacist!

Even with a good pharmacist on our team, it’s extremely important for us to read up on the medications and their interactions. Read what the pharmacy gives you with your prescriptions, but also consider using a site like to track what you take. They’ll let you create a profile and save it, then they’ll notify you of any new information about your drugs, like recalls or new notices regarding interactions. All you have to do after the original entry is add new medications or remove the ones you’re no longer taking.

With today’s economy, I hear from many people who aren’t taking all the medications they’re supposed to be because they can’t afford them. I can’t stress this enough: talk to your doctor! She may know about ways for you to get the drugs you need. She may have access to samples. She may be able to switch you to a cheaper alternative. She’ll probably be willing to help you get help from a patient assistance program if you find one at NeedyMeds (it’s always worth checking there!). If there’s really no way for you to get the drug, it’s often important to taper off slowly instead of quitting it all at once. Either way, your doctor must know what’s going on with you. Don’t be embarrassed—everybody is having financial issues right now.

If you’re on Medicare, every state has an extra help plan that helps cover medication co-pays for Medicare participants who meet certain income guidelines. Those programs aren’t well-advertised, so you could qualify right now and not know it! Call Medicare to find out.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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