12 Tips to Ensure Access to Healthcare This Winter

By Celeste Cooper, Guest Columnist

When we think of winter, we think of chilly days, getting cozy under a soft fluffy blanket, or curling up with a warm drink and a good book. We think of holiday festivities, and time with family and friends.

And as we prepare for winter, maybe we should also consider a safety plan that will assure access to the healthcare we need.

Those of us who live with chronic pain or illness have learned to expect the unexpected. We know that our symptoms can escalate without warning. Some of us experience a worsening of symptoms during the cold and dry winter months.  We may need additional medications to manage our symptoms or make more frequent visits to the doctor than usual. We need to do something to make sure our needs are met.


The following are some suggestions to make the winter months less intimidating:

1. Know what’s in your medicine cabinet. Take an inventory of medications, including prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.

2. Dispose of outdated prescriptions, vitamins or supplements by following the Food and Drug Administration's guide on “How to Dispose of Unused Medicines."

3. If a replacement prescription is needed, ask your doctor or pharmacy for a refill now.

4. Know your insurance company’s policies on early refills before a winter storm hits.

5. If transportation or road conditions interfere with your ability to obtain a prescription, a substitute medication may be needed. Be sure to clarify with your pharmacist any differences in the medications or things to watch for.  

6. Most medical practices have a cancellation policy, sometimes imposing a fee if you don’t give 24-hour notice. Ask your doctor’s staff about their policy when a winter storm prevents you from keeping an appointment.

7. Identify your support network in case someone needs to pick up a prescription for you or provide transportation to the doctor.

8. Get to know your pharmacist so they can help you anticipate your needs. Ask for their business card and keep it where it is readily available, especially if you are not the one picking up your prescription.

9. Check to see if a pharmacy in your area delivers. If it’s not in your insurance network, check to see if your insurance carrier will make an exception under special circumstances.

10. Have information on an alternate pharmacy handy in case yours does not have the medication you need. Pharmacy inventories can also be affected by winter weather.

11. Consider using a mail order prescription plan. Paperwork from your physician may be required.

12. If you already use mail delivery for your medications, contact the supplier. Ask them how they protect your medications from extreme temperatures during shipment. Frigid temperatures can alter the potency and stability of certain medications. Even if you live in a temperate area, your medications may travel through areas that are not.

Let your doctor and pharmacist know you have an action plan and ask them for any suggestions that will assure your access to medication this winter.

As you get ready for winter and make plans for the holidays, also consider how you will manage your healthcare needs. If you are prepared, you can enjoy a healthier and safer winter.

Celeste Cooper, RN, is an advocate, freelance writer and author. She is also a person living with chronic pain. Celeste is lead author of Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myofascial Pain, and the Broken Body, Wounded Spirit: Balancing the See-Saw of Chronic Pain book series.

Celeste enjoys spending time with her family and the rewards she receives from interacting with nature through her writing and photography. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.