Pillboxes and blister packs -- the sheets of tablets or capsules enclosed in a plastic bubble -- are simple, portable, and inexpensive tools for the management of daily prescription medication. According to research conducted at Mount Allison University and elsewhere, however, these devices are not always used as intended.
For example, older people were found to fill pillboxes relying on their memory and visual recognition of the pills, without referring back to prescription labels on the original vials. In addition, the pillboxes used most commonly were 7-day organizers, without compartments for different times of the day, risking errors for pills that need to be taken at specific times. Few of the study subjects had a second person check their work. Finally, some patients transfer pills from blister packs to pillboxes, which can jeopardize medication that’s unstable outside of its original packaging.
In order to make pillboxes and blister packs safer, study author and psychologist Odette Gould, and others, recommend the following measures:
- Let your pharmacist or health-care provider know when you’re using a pillbox
- Use a pillbox with compartments for different times of day to make sure pills are being taken when required
- Ask someone to check to make sure you’ve sorted your pills correctly
- Ensure that pills are chemically stable once removed from their original packaging
- Reserve pillboxes for patients who are in good health, without mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease
- Consider an electronic dosing system, that uses a microcircuit in the lid to record when a dose is removed from its package
Remember: once medications are out of their prescription vial, they are much easier to confuse and/or interchange!
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Odette N. Gould, Laura Todd and Janice Irvine-Meek. "Adherence Devices in a Community Sample: How are Pillboxes Used?" Canadian Pharmacists Journal. ISSN 1715-1635, 01/2009, Volume 142, Issue 1, pp. 28 - 35.
Tamara. L. Hayes, John M. Hunt, Andre Adami, and Jeffrey A. Kaye,
“An Electronic Pillbox for Continuous Monitoring of Medication Adherence”
Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2006; 1: 6400–6403.