It’s not uncommon for people who take multiple medications to use a pill box as a handy way to remind them exactly what medication they need to take and when, but alarming research claims these sorters can actually do more harm than good – especially in patients who have just switched to using an organiser.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia originally released data in 2016 that found older people who switch from their usual medication packaging to a pill organiser could experience adverse side effects and hospitalisation because they’re taking more medication in one go. An update on the study was published in the Research in Social Administrative Pharmacy Journal this week and found that pharmacies are giving out twice as many pill organisers as they were a decade ago to try and help patients, but that they may be counterintuitive.
“Our research showed that patients were more likely to become unwell when they switched from taking their medication straight from the packet to using a pill organiser. In some cases, older people can even end up being hospitalised,” lead researcher Debi Bhattacharya said in a statement.
“This is likely because when the patients had been taking their medication sporadically, they weren’t getting the expected health improvements. Their doctor may therefore have increased the dose of the medication to try to get the desired effect.”
This means that when patients start taking their medication as prescribed and in combination with other medications, they’re more likely to experience side effects. The study found pill boxes also make it harder for people to identify which medication is causing side effects and patients may stop taking all their medication as a result, with Bhattacharya explaining: “This can lead to serious health complications that wouldn’t have occurred if they had simply skipped that one tablet.”
The latest update on the study shows pharmacists may not be considering the risk of adverse events, with researchers from the University of East Anglia developing a new set of guidelines for healthcare professionals to work with patients to decide if they would benefit from pill organisers or if other solutions such as coloured labelling or easy to open medicine bottles are a better solution.
“Our new algorithm encourages prescribers to consider the emotional and practical barriers that might stop patients taking their medication correctly,” Bhattacharya said. “Emotional barriers to taking medication as prescribed can include things like whether the patient is anxious or lacking confidence, lacking motivation or experiencing unwanted side effects. In all of these cases, using a pill organiser is likely to be inappropriate.”
In these cases, patients would benefit from social support that boosts their confidence, being provided with more information about the benefits of taking the medication or working with health professionals to set realistic medication goals. Practical barriers such as visual impairment and memory problems may also prevent people from taking medication straight from a package.
People are encouraged to talk to their GP or pharmacist if they’re considering switching from usual packaging to pill organisers to ensure it’s the right move for them, while researchers say using organisers isn’t dangerous for those who have used them for some time.
“People who are already using a pill organiser without any ill effects should not stop using it as they do seem to help some patients take their medication as prescribed,” Bhattacharya said. “It’s the switching stage which appears to be the danger.”
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