WENATCHEE — Every day, Beth Widby’s aging mom took 18 prescription medicines. Pills looked similar. Doses were complicated. And errors were made — wrong meds, wrong doses, wrong schedule.
“She came to me and said she couldn’t keep track of them all anymore,” said Widby, a registered nurse for 32 years. “She needed help. Her caregivers needed help. The whole medical industry needs help in keeping track of who takes what medicines, when they take them and why.”
Now, years later, the muddle over her mother’s meds has led the 72-year-old Widby to devise the Meds I Take System, a simple printed card containing photos of a patient’s pills or other meds, names of the medications, reasons for taking them and dosages and times to take them. The system received a U.S. trademark in April.
“You wonder why no one’s dreamed this up before,” said Widby. “All the information is available on the Internet. All I’ve done is organize it into an easy-to-read format and then print it out.”
In fact, over the past decade Widby has made hundreds of Meds I Take cards — all on her home computer — for friends, relatives and patients she’s met as a registered nurse and, now after retirement, a consulting nurse for local health agencies.
Some of these patients were taking up to two dozen medications — pills, liquids, sprays, creams, patches — in a 24-hour period, said Widby.
Confusion arose when different medications had similar shapes and colors, high-dose pills were similar in size to low-dose pills or meds were administered on complicated schedules. Such as: one daily, one every four hours, one three times a day, take with food, take on an empty stomach, take crushed in water, never take with this pill, always take with that pill.
“The one common thread among all these patients was that they needed a simple, foolproof way to make sense of the meds they were prescribed,” said Widby. “With my nursing background, I knew I should give it a try.”
A 1959 graduate of Wenatchee High School, Widby spent 20 years as a West Coast fashion model before entering a nursing program at age 36. She went on to specialize in psychiatry and served as a psychiatric nurse for the criminally insane in the Arizona state prison system. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she published two popular health books touted in national magazines and on TV talk shows.
After retirement in 2007, she moved back to Wenatchee and now presents a series of workshops for Aging & Adult Care of Central Washington on on topics such as fall prevention, disease prevention and medicine management. She gives her Power Point presentations at senior centers and retirement homes around North Central Washington.
About 14 years ago, Widby began experimenting pre-Internet with the Meds I Take concept by making images of pills on a copy machine and gluing them to cards for patients. Since then, her Meds I Take cards have evolved into a more polished, laminated version with color photos and up-to-date info on each medicine.
Today, Widby is hoping her Meds I Take System is adopted by a large drugstore chain — such as Walgreens or CVS — as a service to their customers. A photo list of medications would be printed with other paperwork, such as billing and a list of side effects, with every patient’s prescription order.
“But it’s going to take a commitment by a national chain or global pharmaceutical company to make this happen,” said Widby, who’s not looking to profit from her system.
“My passion is to help people live a happy and relaxed life,” said Widby. “I want them to enjoy their senior years, to be safe, secure and at peace. This system is one of the mechanisms to help them do this.”