Keeping a Medication Track Record

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    This blog is about a very basic coping mechanism that is easy to carry out and can make an enormous difference in terms of how long it takes you to get into recovery, as well as your prospects for staying there.  Unfortunately, most people don't even think about it until it is too late to capture the required information.  In my experience it is of critical importance if, for any reason, you find yourself seeing more than one psychiatrist over the course of your illness.


    Write down in your journal, or better yet a dedicated little notebook, every medicine that you and your psychiatrist try.  Enter the following for each medication:

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    • 1. It's Name (and whether you tried the brand name or a generic).
    • 2. The date you started taking the medication and its initial dosage.
    • 3. The date of any and all changes in dosage (whether an increase or decrease).
    • 4. The elapsed time during which you took each dosage, i.e., two weeks, two months etc.
    • 5. If you stop the medication, the date that you stopped.
    • 6. Any and all benefits you believe you have experienced because of the medication at each and every dosage level you have tried.
    • 7. A description of any and all side effects you experience at the various dosage levels and the duration of each of side affect, as well as any correspondence with changes in dosage.

    Most psychiatrists keep track of items 1 through 5, but find it difficult to maintain any detailed records of items 6 and 7.  They simply do not have the time in the course of a 10 or 15 minute appointment to assess your condition in sufficient depth.  If you see the same psychiatrist for the duration of your illness, and if you routinely report the information covered by items 6 and 7, he or she will probably have at least some sense of the progression of your illness and how to best treat you at any given time.  If you also see a therapist, try to get them to talk to each other after each meets with you.  This can improve your prognosis significantly.


    If you move (as I have - numerous times), or for any number of other reasons, you change psychiatrists, the problems created by not recording all the information above will immediately become apparent.  Given the materials that are usually sent when you ask your last psychiatrist to forward your records to your new psychiatrist, the latter simply does not get all the information necessary to accurately reconstruct the history of your illness and treatment.  Guess what happens next?


    Your new psychiatrist will ask why you switched from medication A to medication B three years ago and even worse, what affect the medications had on you, including any and all side effects?  The consumer whose memory is good enough to remember this detailed information ought to be studying for the board exams in psychiatry.  Guess what happens next?


    Unless you are safely stabilized and high functioning, your new psychiatrist will begin to search for a more effective cocktail of medications for you and he or she will feel obligated to retry some of the medications you and your past psychiatrist(s) tried and found wanting.  All this will happen because your new psychiatrist can't divine the information he needs to treat you effectively.  He or she will have no choice but to try to reconstruct the history of your illness and treatment.  Guess what happens next?


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    You get to relive your past.  Your level of functionality will probably suffer because some, if not most or all, the medications your new psychiatrist does chose to retry will be ones that you have already tried and rejected.  These will be less useful to you than what you were taking when you switched psychiatrists.  You will have the great privilege of revisiting all the lovely side effects that had made your life miserable in the earlier years of your illness.


    If, however, when your new psychiatrist starts asking the questions that will determine your future treatment you can hand him or her your little black notebook containing your Medication Track Record your immediate and long term prospects should improve dramatically.  You might even be able, with your new psychiatrist, to pick up where you left off with your old.


    Many consumers, in the midst of the agonies of their illness, may not be capable of recording the information outlined above for each medication.  This creates a wonderful opportunity for a friend or relative to make a very valuable contribution to their loved one's recovery.


    During my most recent relapse, some three of four years ago, for about a year I couldn't remember what medications I was supposed be taking, let alone the dosages and when these were to be taken.  Each evening after dinner, my wife and I would gather around the dining table and set out my medications for the next day.  And while my wife was at work, our daughter would make sure that I took my medications at the proper times.  These acts of compassion greatly accelerated my recovery.


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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions.  If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.


Published On: June 23, 2008