HEALTHCARE NEWS:

Text Messages Can Increase Compliance With Taking Medications, Study Finds

Broad implications for health care providers and insurers

By Robert Glatter MD, Contributor, Forbes. December 7th 2014

Nearly one third of patients taking medication to lower lipids and control blood pressure are non-compliant with their medications—medications that can be important for preventing progression of coronary artery disease or a preventing a stroke.

Some patients just simply forget to take their medications, or may be uncertain as to the potential benefits or harms.

Increasing compliance with taking medications is one of the most common problems healthcare providers deal with in trying to provide the best care for their patients.

As telemedicine in the US has become a viable method of healthcare, with e-visits becoming more popular, alternatives to traditional in-person visits have expanded ways to influence patient behaviors. Gentle reminders at in-person medical appointments may not be effective or adequate.

With the majority of US residents now owning a cellphone or having access to one, harnessing wireless technology may be a viable way to help reach patients to provide reminders to take medications and intervene when patients are not compliant.

And as smart phones have become more prevalent in our society–with more senior citizens adapting such technology—increasing compliance with taking medicines now becomes just a text message away.

The results of a new study published online in the journal PLOS One offer hope for healthcare providers who deal with this frustrating problem taking care of their patients.

“An important and overlooked problem in medicine is the failure to take prescribed medication. The results of this trial show that text message reminders help prevent this in a simple and effective way. More than just a reminder, the texts provided the link to identify patients who needed help,” explained lead author Dr. David Wald, a professor and cardiologist at Queen Mary University of London in England.

The study evaluated 300 patients who were already taking medications to treat high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. The study divided the patients into two groups: one group received text messages and the other did not.

The group receiving text messages were sent messages asking them if they had taken their daily medications. The messages were initially sent everyday for two weeks, then every other day for two weeks, followed by once a week for six months. Those patients who did not reply to the text messages received phone calls to investigate reasons and were offered assistance.

According to the results of the study, 25 percent of those who did not receive text messages stopped taking their medications completely or took less than 80 percent of it, compared with just 9 percent who received text messages.

“The health implications of these results are considerable from both an economic and a health gain perspective. The method is not limited to cardiovascular disease prevention and could be used for patients on treatment for other chronic diseases,” said David Taylor, professor emeritus, pharmaceutical and public health policy, University College London.

Certainly patients with other chronic diseases including TB, HIV, as well as epilepsy could benefit from such technology, according to the authors of the study.

It’s important that this study be extended over a longer period to fully evaluate the health benefits of such technology, and to quantify blood pressure and lipid levels as a result of this intervention.

Engaging patients with text messaging has broad implications for improving healthcare in the US.

Addressing chronic medical illness through such technology can better connect patients with healthcare providers, while likely leading to reduced healthcare expenditures in the US.

Early adoption of this technology leading to downstream savings with improved outcomes makes this a win-win proposition.

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