7 Ways Pharmacists Can Help Patients Swallow Pills


Sometimes, patients have a hard pill to swallow.

Sometimes, patients have a hard pill to swallow.

Around 40% of Americans report having some difficulty swallowing pills, according to a Harris Interactive study. As a result of their struggle, 14% have delayed taking their medication, 8% have skipped a dose, and 4% have stopped using their medication altogether.

Here are 7 ways pharmacists can help patients overcome their pill-swallowing fears and increase medication adherence.

1. Teach head posture techniques.

A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine tested the efficacy of head posture techniques for 151 patients with and without difficulty swallowing pills. The patients took 16 differently shaped placebos and rated their ease of swallowing.

The “pop-bottle” method involved teaching patients to place the pill on their tongue and close their lips around the opening of a water bottle. Then, they were told to throw their head back and use a sucking motion to swallow the water and pill. The water bottle should squeeze in on itself while the patient does this.

The other technique involved patients placing a pill on their tongue and taking a “medium” sip of water but refraining from swallowing immediately. They were then told to bend their head forward, tilting their chin toward their chest and then swallowing the pill and water with their head bent forward.

The researchers found that both techniques were “remarkably effective” both for patients who had trouble swallowing pills and those who had not reported difficulties.

The first method improved the pill-swallowing skills of 59.7% of those who tried it (169/283), while the leaning forward method helped 31 of the 35 patients who used that technique.

2. Suggest a specialized pill-swallowing cup.

Pharmacists can direct patients to a pill-swallowing tool that’s right in their pharmacy.

Many pharmacies stock specialized pill-swallowing cups that can help remove anxiety. Patients do not have to put a dry pill on their tongue; instead, they put water and the pill in an opaque cup and drink the contents through a spout.

Patients may not notice the pill at all when using this tool.

3. Use guided imagery.

Guided imagery can help children overcome their pill fears, Kathleen Bradford, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told The New York Times.

Dr. Bradford said that it could be useful for children to think of their tongue as a water slide and the pill as a rider going down the water slide into a pool, which is their stomach.

4. Suggest a flavored throat spray.

A pharmacist created the Pill Glide Swallowing Spray, made for both children and adults, which comes in several different flavors like strawberry or orange.

The spray is supposed to remove bad aftertaste and help pills “glide” down the patient’s throat.

5. Tell patients to take a deep breath.

In the Harris Interactive study, 13% of the 679 adults polled said that taking a deep breath before taking a pill helped minimize their gag reflex.

Gagging was the third most common problem for patients in the study, following fears of having a pill get lodged in their throat or experiencing a bad aftertaste.

6. Help patients practice with candy.

Some patients find it helpful to work up to swallowing pills by practicing with pill-sized pieces of soft bread or candy.

The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center suggests that patients can work their way up to pills by swallowing candies of increasing sizes, such as sprinkles, Nerds, mini-M&Ms, regular M&Ms, and Good & Plenty. The center also advised patients to obtain empty gel capsules from their pharmacist for practice.

7. Provide ideas for disguising pills.

The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center suggests that patients can try disguising pills in Jell-O or melted down pieces of Fruit Roll-Ups or Starbursts.

Magic Shell chocolate can also provide a more appealing coating for pills.

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