Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | December 26, 2012

In Praise of the Pill Box

Lots of people take pills. Many of them take more than one. Most of them are supposed to take them every day. This is called either “adherence” or “compliance”, depending on your degree of linguistic subtlety. (“Compliance” implies “bending” to the doctor’s will; “adherence” has the connotation of sticking to the regimen.)

Pills come in bottles. This is no big deal. Pop open the top, spill out the pill, toss it back, and you’re done. For one pill, that is. More pills mean more bottles, more caps to pop, and obviously more pills to swallow.

Most pills are pretty small, which makes them easy to drop into the sink, onto the floor, and who knows where else. The more times you have to open the bottle and pour one out, the greater the risk of droppage. Speaking from personal experience, it doesn’t happen all that often when you’re careful, but it does happen.

When traveling, I used to count out all the pills I’d need and put them all together into a single small plastic travel pill box. However a couple of months ago, I found myself taking a more open-ended trip. Since I didn’t want to take all my pill bottles along, I invested in a 7-day pill box, filled it up, and headed out.

Upon my return, I decided to keep using it. Best. Decision. Ever.

Why? Several reasons. I take 5 pills a day, all together in the morning. Opening each bottle one at a time, dumping out a pill (just one, hopefully), putting the cap back on, and repeating the process with each of the other bottles didn’t seem to take much time while I was doing it. But now that all I have to do is flip open a little green plastic tab, dump them into my hand, and toss them down my gullet, I realize what a time saver it is. For those who may retort that I still have to fill the box up once a week, I’ve found that it really doesn’t take all that much longer to count out 7 pills and plop them into their little cubes, Mancala-style than it does just to flip out one for the day. Bottom line is a couple of minutes saved each day, plus a six-fold reduction in the risk of dropping pills.

Sure it helps with adherence, which is why I’ve always recommended pillboxes to all my patients, especially those who take multiple meds. But it’s also a time saver, which is another big plus for busy people like me and my patients, even those who may take only one or two medications a day. Win-win.



  1. I’ve been using a 7 day pill box for over a decade. So what if i waste half an hour or so filling up trays (I have five sets to cover an entire month; four are white and the fifth is blue–when I reach that one, it’s time to get prescription refills. OK, I’m obsessive, but I’m also diabetic, and in the past I occasionally found myself without meds on a long weekend when no pharmacy was open), it makes my life so much easier–just pop the day’s boxes in my handbag if I go out or in its regular place at home and I never forget them.

  2. Great idea. I’ve only recently started to use the 7-day pill box, in fact, I have two such boxes as I take some meds in the morning and some at night. The boxes are of different color and so far I can still remember which is the morning box and which is the evening box. Should I, as a rather senior citizen, ever reach the stage where I can’t remember that, I’ll label the boxes AM and PM, and when I can’t tell the A from the P, I’ll mark them MORNING and NIGHT.

  3. Be careful traveling, or any time police may have a pretext to search–in many areas it is a crime to have certain prescription drugs in a non-original container. Really, really stupid law, and not generally enforced unless the cop thinks something else is going on.

  4. @sevesteen: Good warning. Agree; really really stupid law.

    @COG: Actually, some people refuse to use pill boxes because they prefer to dispense their own meds each day, and since they’re (semi-)retired, the time-saving argument doesn’t hold much sway. I wonder if folks like that sometimes change their minds when something happens (they need surgery, say) and a family member comes in and insists on using the pill box because it’s so much more convenient when the patient himself cannot, for whatever temporary reason, manage his own meds.

  5. I started using a 7-day pill box when I was on chemo and had a varying regimen that I would have had difficulty keeping track of otherwise–you do NOT want to miss your zofran dose after chemo! I’ve continued since then, because of another benefit in addition to the convenience: being able to tell at a glance whether you’ve taken the pills you should have. It’s sure easier to see whether my second dose of flecainide is still in the compartment than to remember whether I actually took it at 8pm or got distracted when I went into the kitchen and just poured myself something to drink instead.

  6. It’s a great way to save time, have convenience for travel, and to keep from forgetting doses. My only caveat is that if you have small children or your purse/baggage will be staying someplace that has them, use a LOCKING pillbox or keep it safe from them somehow. They like to flip the tabs and think it’s a toy. You don’t want them spilled all over, much less have to deal with or even wonder if they actually did eat some.

  7. Even this pharmacist has taken her water capsule at night while operating in auto-pilot mode. Needless to say, my sleep that night was – shall we say – sporadic. The pill box is great!

  8. As a volunteer EMS responder in an area with many vacation homes, may I offer another caveat when using pill boxes instead of the original bottles? On more than one instance I’ve had a patient (or the spouse/child!) answer the question about which meds the patient was taking with “They’re all in the pill box over there.” If there was a list of meds and dosage instructions it would be on the refrigerator back home in the next state. Please, please, PLEASE keep a list of meds, dosages and what they are for with you as well as the pill box. When minutes count, it could save your life.

  9. Pill boxes or not, it always a good idea to carry a list of one’s meds and dosages. If in case of an emergency one is rushed to a hospital where surgery or other procedures may need to be performed, one’s regular meds may include some that should not be taken under the circumstances. My spouse and I always carry our own and each other’s lists.

  10. There is a pill box for every need. They come with alarms, arranged for 3-4 times a day dosing, ones you fill monthly (great for distance caregiving). You can even get a pill box system from some LifeLine services that includes reminder calls! I recommend pill boxes to all my clients (medical social worker) and family. My 18 year old daughter is even using one–with the days of the week labeled in Japanese. And, yes, definitely keep a list of meds even if you only take a couple–and include your OTC meds and supplements!

  11. I keep my pills in a 7 day pill box that has 14 “cells”, an AM and a PM for each day – I’d be lost without it. My med list, including OTC and a list of who prescribed what med for what reason, is on my iPhone, although I do doubt that in an emergency anyone is going to go digging through my files for medical info. I’ve sometimes wondered about an app for recording and tracking meds. But still, there is the issue of whether anyone would think to look at it if I ever had a medical emergency that left me unable to pull it up.

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