howard brown health center

A new study out of Howard Brown Health Center shows that daily text message reminders help HIV+ patients adhere to their medications.

The 24-week study took a group of HIV+ patients, aged 14-29, with documented poor adherence to their antiretroviral therapy (ART). Every day, the patients received a personalized SMS reminder to take their medications. Then, one hour later, they were sent a follow-up message asking whether they had taken their meds or not. Participants could text back 1 if they took their medication and 2 if they did not.

The study found that the text message reminders “significantly improved” the patients’ adherence to their medication. That can be a life-saving improvement.

The Challenges of ART Adherence

As the study notes, young people aged 12-29 account for a third of the approximately 50,000 new HIV infections every year. By not taking their medications, they are putting their health and even their lives at risk. The study authors write, “Nonadherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) can lead to poor health outcomes and significantly decreased life expectancy.”

So why don’t people take their meds? There’s dozens of reasons – the dosing schedule, the side effects, the number of pills, or even just avoidance. But simply forgetting is the number one cited reason why people miss their medication schedule. As a result, healthcare providers have tried for years to come up with ways to help people remember. They’ve tried counseling, telephone calls, and directly observed therapy, to name just a few. But as the study notes,  “many of these strategies are expensive, time consuming, and potentially intrusive.”

How Text Reminders Help with ART Adherence

Enter the text message. A simple text reminder could potentially remove forgetting as a factor. It’s easy to schedule in advance, cheap to send, and you can be sure everybody has a mobile phone to receive them. What’s more, the study notes, “mobile technology can provide treatment to patients in real time and in their natural environments.” Said more simply – the text message reaches people where they live.

The study also gave credit to the tailored, targeted content of this messaging campaign. That’s a key feature that makes text message campaigns so effective. The ability to personalize messages, around a patient’s schedule and needs, can be the difference between keeping their attention and losing it.

The study participants appreciated the text messages, too. 95% of the participants said the text messages helped them “very much,” and 81% said they wanted to continue to receive the messages in the future. But perhaps even more importantly, the participants adhered more closely to their medication regimens.

More and more studies show that text messages can help with medication adherence across a variety of illnesses – HIV, Diabetes, liver transplants. The data is piling up that the humble text message could actually save lives.