The study, published in PLOS One, enrolled 303 patients taking medication for blood pressure from seven London primary care practices. Using automated software, 151 participants were sent a message daily for two weeks, followed by a fortnight of texts on alternate days, at the time they were advised to take their medication.
Participants were required to reply to the message saying whether they had taken their tablets, if the text had reminded them, or if they had not taken their medication. The responses were logged in a central database.
Professor David Wald, the study's lead author, said that text messaging patients is 'ideally suited to helping patients who take medications to prevent disease, like epilepsy drugs to prevent seizures and the polypill to prevent cardiovascular disease, and could be simply adopted by nurses or pharmacists as a complementary method for interacting with their patients.'
Nine per cent of patients who received the text messages took less than 80 per cent of their medication, compared with a quarter of the group who did not receive the messages. If a patient in the text group did not take their medication, they received a phone call offering advice on how to resume their medication. Only three patients who received advice did not resume taking their medication. Speaking to the BBC, Professor Wald, said: 'It helped us identify those patients who were not taking their tablets. That's the group that we really need to focus on. What the text messaging allowed us to do was offer help where help was needed.'
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'This small study is encouraging as it shows that text message reminders can help people continue to take their medication. Carrying out a larger study over a longer period of time would help establish the full extent of the benefits of sending these type of reminders to patients.'
It is estimated that poor adherence to medication, and the resulting avoidable illness, wastes up to £500 million a year. Professor Wald added: 'The cost of sending the text messages is very small. In this study, it was no more than £3 per patient… In terms of the cost implications, its been estimated that in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds are actually wasted.'