Last year, over 1 billion prescription items were dispensed in England. According to the Nuffield Trust there were, on average, 19 prescription items per person in England. And an article on NHS said that almost half the population is taking prescription medications.
However you look at those statistics, it’s clear a lot of people are taking a lot of medications. It isn’t too hard to imagine then, that some of those people may be taking several prescriptions. It’s probably easy to forget, or confuse, the timing on medications when you are taking so many. Even for people with only one prescription it is possible to forget about it.
SMS reminders are a great way to help patients stay on track and take medications when they need them. For example, I have asthma. The medication I take keeps it under control. It works so well that when I run out of the medication it takes 4-5 days before I start to have difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, that makes it easy for me to forget to call in or pick up my refill. It isn’t until I start to feel the symptoms again that I remember to get to the pharmacy. That can be dangerous, particularly if someone has a condition worse than my asthma (which while troublesome, has never been life threatening).
NHS’ report from December 2014 highlights this fact saying the most widely prescribed drugs were cholesterol-lowering statins. While missing one pill won’t likely cause issues, if a patient isn’t consistent taking their medications life threatening problems can arise. Patients taking antidepressants can also be at high risk if they don’t take their medication regularly or suddenly stop taking it. There are many other medications that would have the same problem.
How SMS can help
Over 93% of the UK population has mobile phones. All of those phones are capable of sending and receiving text messages. Doctors and pharmacists can use SMS messaging to help patients in the following ways:
Repeat prescription reminders – for people like me that can’t seem to call in their refills before they need them, pharmacies can send a quick SMS message with a reminder that it’s time for a repeat. This will help minimise the amount of time someone may go without their medications (hopefully it will eliminate any missed time). It could be possible to actually request a repeat prescription by replying to that text message too, depending on how the service is set up. If getting a repeat is as simple as sending a text message it’s likely more people will do it in time.
Guidance on scheduling medications – people who need more than one medication, or have one that needs very specific scheduling, could benefit from SMS reminders. The messages could provide reminders or guides to ensure the medications are taken properly. Many medicines work better when they are taken at certain times or intervals (antibiotics for example) so this type of communication could help people get healthier and stay healthier.
Encouragement to keep taking medications – many medications have side effects. Some of those may be outright unpleasant. But if the medications are stopped there may be worse side effects or they may not work as intended. When a doctor knows that a particular treatment may be difficult to complete, they can sign the patient up for a series of SMS messages that encourage them to continue by reminding them of the benefits they will see if they do. And also warn them of any dangers of stopping the medication without notifying the doctor.
Managing health can be challenging. SMS messaging can be used to help people stay on track and live healthier lives. All it takes is a simple message to break through distractions so people can focus on what they need to do with their medications.