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Treatment Adherence

A Daily Reminder

“Medication adherence” means taking your HIV medications when and how you are supposed to take them. It can be one of the most difficult aspects of living with HIV/AIDS.

For some people, taking their meds every day reminds them of the social and the emotional issues connected to HIV/AIDS, so they avoid it. It doesn’t have to be that way for you because there are tips and tools that can help you take your meds when and how you need to be taking them.

Medication adherence is really important. Studies show that your meds will be most successful in controlling your HIV if you miss no more than one pill per month.

Helpful Tips

Here are a few helpful hints to maintain good adherence (which means sticking to the schedule better than 95% of the time):

  1. Learn about the things that keep HIV patients from taking their meds, and think about how you can deal with them if you have those issues. Some factors include:
    • Untreated depression/mental illness
    • Substance abuse
    • Complicated medical instructions
    • Medication side effects
    • Dietary restrictions
    • Difficulty reading or understanding directions
    • Homelessness or unstable housing
    • Stigma
    • Travel
    • Overall “fit” of the drug regimen/schedule to the patient’s lifestyle and daily routine
    Let your healthcare provider know if you are facing any of these challenges. Your provider may be able to adjust your med schedule, change your drug regiment or dosages, or link you with additional services.
  2. Use took kits and available resources (e-mail and text reminders, etc) to help you remember your med schedule. For more information, see VA’s Tips for staying on your treatment plan.
    • If you feel that your med schedule is getting to be too much for you to handle, talk with your healthcare provider and discuss your concerns.
    • Put your medication in a pill box that can hold a week’s worth of drugs. That will help you keep track of what you have, and haven’t, taken, and it will save you time, since you won’t have to open multiple pill bottles every day. It will also make it easier to take your meds while you are traveling.
    • Use specialized pharmacies that offer services that dose your medications for you (so you can pick them up in individual packets or pill boxes).
    • Use timers or alarms on your cell phone or watch to help remind you to take your meds on time.
    • Try your best to develop a routine. Take your medications at the same time each day—it can help to take them at the same time you do another daily activity (like watching a nightly game show or reading the morning paper). This is a way to connect taking your meds with things you would normally be doing anyway.
  3. Plan ahead! If you know you will be spending the night away from home, or simply heading out for the evening, take your evening dose and your morning dose with you just in case you don’t make it back home in time to take your meds.
  4. Work with your healthcare provider to manage side effects to medications. Taking your meds will be easier if you aren’t experiencing side effects.
  5. Work with your pharmacy to know exactly when you are going to run out of medication and how far in advance you should re-order. To make getting your meds on time, use any delivery or courier systems they may have.
  6. Substance abuse is going to make staying on your schedule very hard for you, but if you do plan to keep using, plan ahead for your meds as well:
    • Keep a bottle of water and a small snack on you at all times.
    • Take your medications with you when you go out and keep them on you. Don’t leave them in your purse, car, jacket, bag, etc.
    • Have a friend you know and trust (who is not out with you) send you a text reminder or a phone call to take your medications.
    • If you are using while taking HIV medications, it is really important that you be OPEN AND HONEST with your healthcare provider. Some recreational drugs can increase side effects of medications and interact with your HIV meds in your body. The more your healthcare provider knows about you, the more they can help you.

Not Just Pills

Keeping on track with your HIV care is about more than just staying on schedule with your meds. Treatment of your HIV is more than that. Your healthcare providers have an over-all plan for you, which includes your medical appointments, dental appointments, lab tests, and many other services. When you participate in all of these parts, you are engaged in your care.

People can fall out of care for many of the same reasons they find it find it hard to take their meds. Travel, work, school, family, friends, substance abuse, mental illness, housing, and many other life events and stresses can all have an effect on whether or not you can make it in to the clinic on a particular day.

Clinicians and healthcare providers understand that life happens and no one is going to be perfect 100% of the time. Everyone will miss an appointment from time to time. But falling out of care can really damage your health—so it’s important that you take the initiative to follow up and stay engaged in your care.

With this in mind, if you find yourself becoming less engaged in care, ask your healthcare providers for assistance or referrals to services that may help to lessen some of the life stressors or help you deal with situations that are affecting your HIV care.

Last revised: 08/04/2011