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'Take your meds': Text messages get results

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY
  • Star Tribune
  • May 25, 2012 - 9:05 PM

The mobile phone can be an effective way to nag, at least when it comes to helping people take their medications on time.

In the first large-scale study of its kind in the United States, researchers from Eden Prairie-based OptumHealth found that 85 percent of people with chronic illnesses were able to stick to their prescription drug regimen when they signed up to get text message reminders on their phones. It was a noteworthy improvement over the 77 percent who stuck to a regimen using other methods to remember.

Adherence rates via text message for those taking diabetes medication were even higher -- 91 percent for people who got text reminders vs. 82 percent who didn't, according to the study published this month in Clinical Therapeutics.

"Text messages and emerging technologies offer new opportunities to educate and engage patients so they can improve their health and ultimately rein in their health costs," Kalee Foreman of OptumRx, the study's lead author, said in a statement.

Nearly 70 percent of medication-related hospital admissions arise when patients don't take their prescriptions as recommended, at a cost of about $100 billion a year, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

As a result, the health care industry is increasingly turning to technology -- using mobile phones, electronic prescriptions and claims data -- to help patients with chronic conditions stay on top of prescription drug routines.

The market for health care apps is expected to grow by a billion dollars in the next two years, according to Mobiledia, which covers trends in mobile technology.

Text messages are being used to help teenagers remember to take allergy medicine, to control malaria in Africa and to help people with HIV and other complex illnesses keep multiple medication schedules straight.

A 2011 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 31 percent of text message users said they prefer texting to voice calls.

Peter Wickersham of Prime Therapeutics, an Eagan-based pharmacy benefits management firm, said text messages offer promise in improving results already gained using more traditional efforts, such as writing letters and calling patients at home.

Prime uses such outreach efforts to "close gaps in care," by identifying people who aren't taking their medications and then working with physicians to improve adherence, Wickersham said.

The study's results were based on nearly 600 patients who used a text messaging program offered by OptumRx, a division of UnitedHealth Group. Participants included those with employer-sponsored health plans, as well as seniors enrolled in Medicare.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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