Doctors' Texts Help Patients Take Their Meds, Study Says

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shutterstock_256151683 Medication via Shutterstock


Unless you ve been living in a sterile, plastic bubble since birth, it s likely you ve been afflicted by some sort of illness/ailment/infection that's required prescription medication. And if you re like many others, it s equally likely that you may have deviated from your doctor s orders specifically, when it came to taking your pills. But a recent analysis suggests that medical practitioners may have found a method to help patients adhere to their prescription-meds schedule: text reminders. Poor medication adherence is a growing public health concern. The National Institutes of Health, citing World Health Organization data, states that nearly 50 percent of all medication is not taken as prescribed, while another 20-to-30 percent of prescriptions are never even filled. This lack of adherence and compliance results in more than one third of medicine-related hospitalizations, approximately 125,000 deaths across the United States and an estimated $290 billion annually in avoidable health care costs. A meta-analysis published in this month's issue of JAMA suggests that these statistics might be tempered if practitioners simply texted their patients a friendly reminder to take their medication. Authors looked at 16 randomized clinical trials that evaluated a mobile phone text messaging intervention, to promote medication adherence in a total of 2,742 adults with chronic disease. Results showed that with the texts, patient medication adherence jumped 18 percent from pre-to post-intervention, suggesting that a simple reminder might help patients to follow through on what's prescribed.
In addition, in a recent issue of Hypertension, researchers from the Department of Family Medicine out of Seoul National University Hospital found an association between poor medication adherence and higher mortality among cardiovascular disease patients -- lending credence to the idea that developing and implementing a sound monitoring system and/or a strategy to improve medication adherence is a worthwhile endeavor. But before any large-scale, texting efforts are rolled out, it's important to know that there were a few limitations across several of the studies in the pooled analysis. Patient data was achieved through self-reporting, so it's possible the subjects either over-reported or more readily complied simply because they knew they would eventually have to answer to someone (the researchers). What's more, most studies only tracked medication adherence for three months or less -- a timeline that's not reflective of someone living with a chronic condition who's required to take medication over long periods. So, while text-message reminders are potentially helpful to patients, the study's limitations shed some doubt over its results.