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Do Mobile Phone Apps Improve Medication Adherence?

July 15, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen
Additions/comments provided by Surya Singh, MD

Over 120,000 Americans die every year from not taking their medication as prescribed. There are a variety of reasons why people skip doses of their prescribed medication, but the most commonly cited cause is forgetfulness. Many patients are prescribed a number of different drugs, and when you have to take each one at a separate time every day, it can be easy to lose track of your dosing regimen. It is thought that medication nonadherence costs the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $100-289 billion each year, in addition to the staggering number of (preventable) deaths.

 

Researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs have attempted to come up with solutions to this problem from multiple angles. For example, in recent years, drug manufacturers introduced “smart” drug packaging that reminds you to take your medicine by flashing a light or making a beeping noise. But their efforts are mostly in vain: studies show that approximately 50% of patients still do not take their medication as directed. However, a new method of bolstering patient adherence has recently come to light: using mobile apps.

There are an expanding number of mobile apps out there which aim to get patients to take their drugs as instructed, but do any of them really work? One study attempted to find the most effective mobile app for medication adherence.

 

A team of researchers at the George Institute for Global Health of the University of Sydney set out to review 1,471 mobile applications for both iOS and Android devices. 1,119 apps were excluded from their review because they were either unrelated to health, not in English, owned by healthcare services, or incapable of reminding patients to take their medication. Out of the 352 apps the researchers analyzed, 272 had a medication-reminder function.

 

The team eventually narrowed down their list to only 10 apps. The app at the top of their list, which they determined to be the most effective, was called Medisafe.

The researchers called this app “interesting, entertaining, highly interactive, and customizable” in their study, published in JMIR Publications. Ultimately, the app showed promise in getting patients to take their medicine when evaluated in a number of nonrandomized studies.

 

To sum up, it looks like mobile apps do have the ability to improve patients’ medication adherence, but not just any mobile app will realize this potential. If a forgetful patient decides to rely on a mobile app to give them a reminder to take their medicine, it should be one that has a demonstrated capacity for engaging patients and driving behavior change in order to have the best change of being effective.

Doctor Profile

Surya Singh, MD

Founding Medical Partner

Dr. Singh is actively licensed & board certified in internal medicine. He is currently the CEO of gWell, Inc, a genomics and wellness focused digital health company, and serves as a senior advisor and board member for mission aligned companies and non-profits. In addition, he is an Adjunct Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was formerly Corporate Vice-President and Chief Medical Officer of Specialty Pharmacy at CVS Health, and was an attending physician for many years at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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