Uploaded:  6/17/09

Author:  SA;
Additional Photos by Keely Schellenberg and Alison Beckwith
Strategies for Organizing Medications

It is an unfortunate fact that many of our children are on many medications.  Keeping track, storing, and remembering to administer all the medications can be difficult and overwhelming for many families.  This article contains a variety of different strategies that may work for you and your family to keep on top of medications.

Making a Master List

The first thing I would advise is to make a master list of medications.  There are several different ways to do this, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. 

One system is to make a one or two page list of all your child's medications, what time they are given, the dosage, and the route or preparation.  Here are a few example entries:

  Motrin   3.2ml   130mg   G-tube
  Topamax   2 tablets
  50mg   Dissolved in 3ml water; G-tube
  Flovent   2 puffs   110mcg/puff
  1/2 tablet   5mg         
  Dissolved in 3ml water; G-tube
The good thing about this system is that you can concisely list out everything on one or two pages, post it in a prominent place, and have it available at all times.  The bad thing is that it is nothing more than a list, and it does not help to ensure that the medication actually makes it into your child.

Another option, which is particularly useful if you have nurses or multiple caregivers in the home, is to make a checklist and check off the medications as they are drawn up and given.  Your list can be just for one day, a week at a time, or even a month at a time.  A sample is given below:

Med Time Dose Route
Prepared Admin.
  Motrin  7am   3.2ml=130mg   G-tube   SA   SA
  Topamax  7am   2 tablets=50mg   Dissolved in 3ml water; G-tube   SA   SA
 7am   2 puffs;110mcg/puff   Inhaled   SA   SA
  Baclofen  9am   1/2 tablet=5mg   Dissolved in 3ml water; G-tube   SA  

I suggest including columns both to indicate when the medication was prepared and when it was administered, to prevent confusion if you draw up meds ahead of time.

Color-Coding Medications and Syringes

In 2006, my daughter came home with a ton of new medications after multiple hospital stays lasting nearly two months.  She was still very sick, in a lot of pain, and not sleeping much, which meant that I was not sleeping either.  As I would try to prepare her medications, I often found myself so tired that I could not even remember which medication I had just drawn up one minute earlier.  Since many of her medications are rather dangerous, including multiple narcotics, I needed a better system that would help me remember which medication was which.

I found a brand of colored syringes made by Health Care Logistics that come in five different plunger colors (blue, green, red, white, and yellow), two different barrel colors (clear and amber), and four different sizes (1ml, 3ml, 5ml, and 10ml).  By combining different color plungers, barrels, and sizes, I was able to come up with a unique combination for almost all of my daughter's enterally-administered medications.  I use a few syringes made by other manufacturers to fill in the gaps.

This method has been great for those times in the middle of the night when you are trying to draw up medications half asleep.  It also cuts down on washing of syringes while also prolonging their life since each medication has its own dedicated syringe.  I only wash syringes once a day, using the same syringe for the same medication throughout the day.  I have had some of these syringes last as long as six months!

Drawing Up in Advance

Another strategy that works very well for children on a medium to large number of medications is to draw them up in advance.  This only works for shelf-stable medications that do not need refrigeration or compounding.  It usually only takes an hour or so once a week.

For this system, recommended by parent Keely Schellenberg, you need a lot of syringes and a little bit of advance planning.  Simply draw up an entire week's worth of all your child's oral/enteral medications into individual syringes, leaving any medications that require refrigeration or quick administration (such as time release medications) aside. 


Then bag the syringes either by time administered or day administered, depending on how many medications your child needs.  Label each bag with the date and time it needs to be administered.


For children on a large number of medications, it may be helpful to bag by time and then place all of the bags into seven small bins, one for each day. 

Medications in pill form can be left whole or ground up with a mortar and pestle and stored in a dry syringe, with water added right before administration.

This method can dramatically simplify your medication preparation on a daily basis, leaving lots more time for fun.  It is also helpful if your child is on controlled substances or dangerous medications and you don't want a large quantity of the medication easily accessible to everyone who enters your house.

Storing Medications

I highly recommend purchasing a small medicine chest with a lock or childproof door to store all of your child's medications.  A top shelf in a kitchen cabinet or storage unit may also work well.  Medications should always be stored up high, out of reach of small children, out of the light, away from sources of water or moisture (such as a bathroom), and in their original containers. 

We have a small three-shelf medicine chest installed in our kitchen, on the far wall away from the sink.  We keep almost all of my daughter's enteral medications in this unit, with the bottom two shelves used for daily medications, and the top shelf used for PRNs.  Since she has some medications that are rarely used, we keep overflow medications in a bin on a high shelf in a closet. 

Once medications are drawn up, I like to place them in a little caddy with a handle that can be brought to my daughter's current location in the house.

Example of Caddy for IV Medications

My daughter also has a large number of IV medications, including bags of TPN (IV nutrition), IV fluids, multiple IV antibiotics, IV medications, IV lipids, and IV vitamins.  I highly recommend purchasing a dorm-size or larger refrigerator to store IV medications and other refrigerated medications.  Some infusion companies will even rent or loan you a small refrigerator.  Since IV medications must remain sterile, you really don't want to be mixing them up with your food!  We have separate shelves for each type of item, with a special amber-colored drawer used for medications that are light-sensitive.  You can also place plastic bins directly into the refrigerator to hold vials, syringes, or bags. 

Example of IV and Medication Fridge

Remembering to Refill Prescriptions

It would be wonderful if all of your child's prescriptions could be refilled at exactly the same time.  It never seems to work out for us, since some prescriptions need to be refilled weekly, others monthly, a few every two months, and we also have some PRNs that can last anywhere from one week to three months.  This makes it very difficult to keep track of which prescriptions need refilling at any given time.

I have found that keeping a running list by approximate refill date can help out a lot, though such a list only indicates when you are allowed to refill a prescription and not necessarily when you need it.  As soon as I bring a prescription home, I add it to the top of the list, making sure to delete the previous month's entry.  I also include information such as refills remaining and date of expiration to help me determine if a prescription needs to be refilled earlier than usual because of a need for a doctor's approval.  Finally, I include the refill number just in case the original box or bottle is misplaced.  An entry looks something like this:

  Medication   Med #   Date for Refill  Rx Expiration  Refills Remaining
  Topamax   56324   6/24   12/24   8 refills
Some pharmacies have online systems that will manage your prescriptions in a similar manner.  While some are better than others, in general I find these to be cumbersome and unhelpful due to the way they list prescriptions.  Nonetheless, it is always best to refill all your oral/enteral prescriptions at the same pharmacy so they are all in one place.

Things can get a bit more complicated if your child also has IV medications, since you must use a separate pharmacy for these in most cases.  If you have a good infusion company, they can help you manage the medications.  My daughter's infusion company, for example, emails me a table with all of her IV medications listed and the usual weekly amount I use.  I simply check off what I need.  They also take care of getting physicians' orders as needed.

Making Things Manageable

I hope these tips help to make your child's medications a little bit more manageable.  While medications can be overwhelming, they don't have to be if you can get a good individualized system in place.