Healthcare News & Insights

Best tech strategy to boost medication adherence

With medication adherence, there are several steps hospitals can take to help patients remember to take their medications, including methods that rely on technology such as text messages. But how effective are these strategies long term? 

smart-phone-2Medication adherence is critical to patients’ recovery, so some facilities have focused on helping patients understand why their medications are necessary and removing barriers to picking up prescriptions. To make this process more convenient for both patients and providers, tech is often used for communication.

Many patients enjoy the freedom of talking with providers via text. However, this approach has several challenges that make it less effective for reminders about medication adherence.

Joseph Kvedar, the director of the Center for Connective Health at Partners HealthCare (a nonprofit healthcare network in Boston), discusses the drawbacks to texting about medications in a recent blog post for KevinMD. Some of the biggest issues include:

  • Getting started. Hospitals need two levels of consent from patients to start sending them text messages, according to guidance from the FCC. When patients initially give out their cellphone numbers, they must consent to receiving text messages at that point. The first text sent must be an additional “opt-in” message that patients must confirm before messaging can begin. Past research shows that up to 30% of patients don’t complete this step.
  • Privacy laws. Even if patients consent to receive texts, the messages need to be compliant with HIPAA regulations. That means personal health information (PHI) must be sent securely, or hospitals are on the hook for any data breaches.
  • Limited scope. Text message reminders are often automated, encouraging patients to pick up or refill prescriptions. They can’t do much to address some of the socioeconomic barriers to medication adherence (including health literacy problems) that other strategies can tackle.
  • Message fatigue. After a while, automated medication reminders become much less effective. Research shows that people will pay less attention to similar messages they receive on a regular basis as time passes.

According to Kvedar, additional downsides to keep in mind include how much it costs for patients to receive a text message and mobile numbers that regularly change, making it impossible to send reminders.

Apps as alternative

Another solution for hospitals that want to take advantage of technology to boost medication adherence is using mobile apps.

Traditionally, hospitals have had trouble designing effective mobile apps that meet patients’ needs. But the right app, with relevant features that streamline areas like billing and communication, can be a boon to a facility.

Per Kvedar, it’s easier to guarantee secure communication via an app, so facilities would have fewer worries about HIPAA compliance and data breaches when discussing medications with patients. Plus, notifications can be customized so they’re less intrusive than text messages, keeping patients from experiencing message fatigue.

Apps do have limitations. Besides problems with design that keep patients from using them, there’s also the issue that some patients may not be as comfortable with downloading and using smartphone apps as they are with texts. Costs also come into play because apps use cellular data, which is often more expensive for patients than texting.

Smartest strategy

The best approach for hospitals, according to Kvedar, is one that combines both technologies in certain circumstances. Texting is best for simple, infrequent reminders (such as medication appointments, refills and flu shots). For more complicated initiatives, such as programs requiring long-term follow ups with patients, an app is the best bet for communicating and transmitting information.

Hospitals that may only be considering texting to communicate about medication adherence may want to rethink their strategy. Designing a mobile app that promotes interactive communication with providers could improve patients’ chances of taking their medication as prescribed.

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