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Taking HIV medication at work

taking medication at work

You might have no other choice but to take your HIV treatment during work hours. If that’s the case, we have some practical tips on how to do this.

What if I need to take my medicine during work hours?

If you’re new to treatment, talk to your doctor first and make sure you understand how and when to take your meds. Ask the doctor if there are any dietary restrictions to your HIV medication, if you should take it with or without food and how you should store it.

Side-effects: one important thing to consider is how you will deal with the side-effects of your medication if your drugs kick in while you are at work. Many people find that some HIV drugs make them dizzy and tired, especially in the first weeks of taking treatment.

This can be especially dangerous if you drive for work, do shift work, take care of others or operate machinery. It can also put you in an uncomfortable position if your co-workers don’t know about your HIV status.

Ask your doctor if the treatment prescribed to you is likely to cause side-effects. Just to be safe, take a few days off work as you begin your treatment. If your employer knows about your HIV status, they will be obliged to help adjust your work to treatment.

If you’ve been on treatment for a while, prepare a plan for managing your treatment regimen at work.

What are some good ways to ensure my adherence?

Adherence is the common term for taking your medication regularly, at the same time every day, so that your treatment works as it should and you don’t develop resistance. We have some good general tips for adherence in our section about treatment.

Here are some tips that might work well in a workplace:

Use alarms and reminders: on your phone, watch and email. Alarms are a simple and useful prompt to take your medication.

Most phones allow you to set more than one alarm if you have to take your meds more than once per day. If you’re an iPhone user you might want to try one of the many medical apps out there, but remember that those apps can fail if they aren’t constantly supported by their developers. They can also stop working whenever you update your iOS (the operating system that iPhones run on). Since keeping your iOS up-to-date is important for data security, your best bet is using the built-in (‘native’) Reminders and Clock apps to get reliable daily prompts.

Email yourself: our My Medication and Appointments tool lets you set up automated email reminders. These can be as effective as phone notifications and alerts, but remember that you need network coverage or mobile internet for them to work reliably.

Keep a diary: use a calendar that sends mobile notifications and email alerts, such as iCal, Google Calendar or Outlook. Make sure it’s not the same calendar that you use professionally - in many companies, all your colleagues can view your calendar appointments and tasks.

Use a private calendar connected to your personal account and make sure that the wording of your reminder won’t out you to colleagues who shouldn’t know about your HIV status.

Work around your routine: if there’s anything you do every day at a regular time, it’s a good idea to make your treatment part of that routine. You might have lunch at a regular time - if your pills need to be taken with food, this would be a great time to take them.

If you start or end each day with a cup of tea, responding to emails or checking your Twitter feed, try to make your pill-taking part of that ritual.

Check them off: keeping close track of the meds you take helps you notice any doses you miss. Tick off each dose in a calendar or a spreadsheet or use a Dosette box. These have partitions for every day of the week and different times of the day - if you forget your meds, it will be immediately obvious. A pharmacist or nurse at your HIV clinic should be able to provide you with a Dosette box.

Use visual cues: research suggests that using a picture reminder improves adherence compared to text-only reminders, so maybe add some pill emojis to your alerts. Even if doing that feels a bit silly, it will work on your subconscious - reminding you to take your pill even if you only glance at the screen of your phone while you’re busy with other things.

If you’re using an adherence app that lets you attach a photo to your reminder, give that feature a go and see if it works for you.

You could also keep a printed picture of your pills in a place where you’re likely to see it, for example in a drawer that you often use at work, or inside your wallet.

Top up your supply: make sure you never run out of meds - keep emergency doses in different places and make sure they never go out of date.

Set up separate reminders for your HIV clinic appointments and to renew your prescriptions well in advance.

What if I work shifts or travel for work?

If you work irregular hours or travel frequently for work, you might find it especially challenging to take your treatment regularly, but it’s very important that you do.

Use a combination of reminders set up on a variety of devices, including paper ‘notes to self’, alarms or phone calls from someone close to you. Having back-up reminders is especially important if you’re likely to be out of reach of mobile networks or if your portable devices are likely to run out of power.

If you use a fitness tracker, use it as back-up alarm – it will most likely be the device with the longest-lasting battery (although not as long-lasting as a regular watch).

Always have enough medicine with you and keep doses in many different places – in your wallet, in your hand luggage (try not to check it in) or in the glove compartment of your car. Make sure these spare doses do not go out of date.

Always carry a bottle of water and a snack.

How should I store my medicine at work?

Read the labels on your meds carefully and make sure you know how to store them properly. Most pills should not be exposed to extreme heat, damp or bright light.

List places that are relatively dark, cool and dry and think about which one of those places makes it easiest for you to remember to take your meds.

It’s likely that you won’t have to worry about keeping your medication out of children’s reach while at work. But if you have your own locked cabinet, this will be the safest place to keep it.

If you plan to keep your treatment in a messy cabinet or drawer, keep it in a plastic pill container with a snap-down lid. Dosette boxes with daily partitions for each week of the month are perfect - they’re impossible to miss even in the messiest cabinet.

If your medication needs to be refrigerated, get a tightly sealed box of opaque plastic. Storing it in a staff fridge won’t be very secure but if it’s your only option it might be worth the risk (many probiotics also need to be refrigerated, in case you need a cover story for nosey colleagues).

What if I miss a dose?

Talk to your doctor about what to do if you miss your dose and who to contact if you have a problem with obtaining an emergency dose.

If you find you are regularly missing doses and have a hard time aligning your medication and work schedules, speak to your doctor about it. They might suggest an alternative medication that will be easier for you to adhere to.

You can also discuss adherence problems with our advisors at our free helpline THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.



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  • Can I be forced by my work to take my meds at diffrent times when I dont want to?

    Posted 08:25 Thu 19 Jun 2014

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 13/4/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 13/4/2018

Content Author: Anna Peters

Current Owner: Advice & Advocacy

More information:

  1. Taking your treatment – adherence, Michael Carter, NAM aidsmap, October 2013
  2. What does taking your HIV treatment involve?, Michael Carter and Selina Corkery, NAM aidsmap, March 2014
  3. Managing HIV at work, October 2013, NAM aidsmap
  4. Adherence tips, Michael Carter and Greta Hughson, March 2012, NAM aidsmap
  5. Smartphone Medication Adherence Apps, Lindsey Dayer, Seth Heldenbrand, Paul Anderson, Paul O. Gubbins, Bradley C. Martin, Disclosures J Am Pharm Assoc. 2013;53(2):172-181.
  6. Storing Medication Safely, Ian Murnaghan BSc, MSc, October 2012, Safe Medicine Cabinet
  7. A simple, novel method for assessing medication adherence: capsule photographs taken with cellular telephones, J Addict Med. 2011 Sep;5(3):170-4. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0b013e3181fcb5fd.
  8. Take your medicine. A guide to pill boxes, dispensers and reminders, February 2010, rica.org.uk