HWhen it comes to taking prescription meds, people are confused, according to a study recently published in Archives of Internal Medicine. Complicated medication schedules and vague instructions make multidrug regimens hard to manage, which ups the risk of errors. In fact, about 1.5 million people in the United States experience preventable harm each year because of mistakes in prescription drug use.

Susan Blalock, PhD, an associate professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recommends these measures to make complex drug regimens simpler and safer.

Schedule a medication review. Ask your pharmacist to check for duplicate or unnecessary medicines, drug interactions and dosing errors. Pharmacists have up-to-date information about medications and can suggest needed changes.

Know what “with food” and “on an empty stomach” mean. “Empty stomach” is one hour before eating or two to three hours afterward. “Food” can be a full meal or a light snack, such as crackers or fruit.

Understand dosing instructions. “Take one tablet twice daily” and “Take one tablet every 12 hours” (or morning and night) mean the same thing. “Three times a day” means every eight hours, and “four times a day” means every six hours. Sticking to a prescribed schedule is important, but “In general, don’t wake a sick person to take a pill,” says Blalock.

Streamline your routine. If you’re taking a drug more than four times a day, ask your doctor if you can switch to one you can take less frequently.

Track medications. Use the Arthritis Foundation’s MyMedTracker online medication management tool to keep track of current and previous medications (including prescription, OTC, vitamins and supplements), enter important notes or questions for your doctor and print the information to take to medical appointments. Need text or email reminders to take or refill your meds? Check out mymedschedule.com.

Get some guidance. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you qualify for medication therapy management (MTM), an individualized program that helps people manage medications safely and effectively. MTM is available through Medicare and some private insurers.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. “The more you know about your medications, the less overwhelmed you’ll feel,” Blalock says.