How UK doctors saw boost in medication use through texting

Posted by Sophorn Chhay on

guy looking at medication.jpgCopyright: leaf / 123RF Stock Photo

Ask any doctor to list their gripes, and “patients who don’t take their medications” will likely appear.

The tendency of patients to NOT follow doctor’s orders certainly can lead to a growing sense of discouragement within the profession, as has been reported in the Wall Street Journal. All of that education should make his or her recommendations worth following.

However, patients may not follow through with their medication for a variety of reasons, not just because they’re feeling contrary or difficult. Some may not like how a particular medication makes them feel. Some may forget how long or what dosage they’re supposed to take. Some simply forget.

A British study discovered a useful tool to counter this inability to follow a regimen and to get more people taking their pills: text messaging.

In 2014, a research team at Queen Mary University in London published results of a study of 303 patients as to whether regular texting led to better drug adherence – a medical term for sticking with one’s prescription.

The conclusion, at least for this particular study, was yes. A total of 91 percent of the group that received constant text reminders and also confirmed their consumption over a six-month period completed their medications, compared to 75 percent of the group who didn’t receive texts and completed their medications.

Britain’s National Health Services found the data encouraging and said texting could potentially be used in other medical services or situations where a patient must follow a lengthy medication track. Medical personnel and researchers say it may not be useful in all cases, but texting reminders could lead to more people taking pills properly. This has the potential to improve people’s health and reduce the number of negative outcomes from people who fail to take their proper medication, such as strokes or heart attacks.

Let’s take a closer look at what the study entailed.

  • Test subjects. A pool of 6,884 patients of general practice physicians was texted about the study and 303 were chosen to participate. They were similar in age, gender, smoking status, and all subjects were either taking blood pressure medicine or cholesterol-lowering medicine.
  • Methodology. According to the Daily Telegraph, half received texts every day for two weeks reminding them to take their medication. This was followed by texts alternating days for two weeks, and then weekly texts over a six-month period. The other half weren’t given any texts.
  • Patient role. The participant was supposed to text back acknowledging that they had taken their medicine, that they had not taken their medication or that the text had reminded them to take their medication. If they hadn’t, or didn’t respond, they would be contacted by telephone to discuss, whether they had done so deliberately or simply had forgotten.
  • Wrap-up. After six months, each patient visited a clinic to be assessed, which included their blood pressure or lipid levels. These figures were compared to the levels when the program began.

Once the six-month process ended, researchers looked at patient health info along with the varying responses from the people in the texting group.

The NHS found that there was little difference between blood pressure and cholesterol levels in either the non-text or texting groups.

But the widest range happened in the amount of participants who took their medication and whether they received texts or not.  Beyond the 91 percent figure for those who received texts and 75 percent who didn’t, the study also found that 65 percent of those in the text group had to be reminded at least once, and 15 percent didn’t take their medication at least once.

These reminders/initial refusals in the texting group usually led to contact and questions, which often caused the medication to be consumed and the texts to resume again. However, in the non-texting group, 11 percent of participants who stopped once never started again.

Though the results were interesting and encouraging, the study didn’t show the patient’s larger medical history, only the six-month period and when/why they took their medication.

It also showed that text messaging service wasn’t solely responsible for the positive outcome. Patients may also have been motivated by the personal check-in if they couldn’t or weren’t taking their medication. But SMS can provide an additional outreach tool.

Could this approach translate into the American medical community? Perhaps.

The American Health Information Management Association
said U.S. physicians have been looking into ways of utilizing texting that will aid doctors but also maintain patient privacy.

Physicians and their staff may enjoy looking finding innovative ways to interact with patients via text. These could include similar check-in about whether medications are being properly taken, notes about upcoming appointments, instructions about follow-up visits/referrals, or other types of interactions.

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Topics: Healthcare SMS