Adolescents and young adults are known to be unreliable when it comes to taking their medicine. They’re four times more likely than adults to forget to take their medication or to take it at the wrong time.
That can be a problem with any kind of illness – but is particularly life-threatening when the young adult is HIV+. That’s why New York Presbyterian, Columbia University, and the Harlem Health Promotion Center have created Project STAY (Services to Assist Youth), a program that sends targeted text message alerts to remind young people with HIV to take their medication.
“We work with adolescents and young adults, so it’s just a given that we should give them information in the way that they want it,” says Dr. Christel Hyden of Columbia University, who runs the program.
Every day, people enrolled in the program receive a discreet text message reminder to take their meds. That prompt can counteract forgetfulness, and even dispel the kind of avoidance tactics that cause many people to miss their medication schedules. And because it’s important that HIV medication be taken at the same time every day, the text reminders can ensure that their recipients adhere to a challenging schedule.
The program already has seen a change in behaviors – and remarkable results. “We’ve had some patients whose viral loads have dropped to undetectable since they started getting daily reminders to take their medicine,” Hyden said.
Health and Appointment Reminders for a Variety of Issues
Because HIV+ patients frequently deal with a host of other medical issues, the program provides additional medication reminders, too, on everything ranging from eye exams to HPV to birth control. For those young people who need reminders for their clinic appointments, the system sends out notifications three days before and on the day of the appointment. These notifications include the contact information for the clinic, in case the patient needs to cancel or reschedule her treatment – or even just as a reminder of where to go at the appointment’s time.
For example, patients who receive the Depo-Provera shot for birth control need to receive a shot every three months. But that’s a difficult schedule to remember. So if young women text in the keyword DEPO to the program, they can receive a reminder 3 months later that it’s time for their appointment.
Or for young women using a Nuva ring, the program will send a reminder on day 21 of the 28-day cycle that reads: “Reminder to take out your ring! Please text OK to let us know you got this message and took care of business.” Then on day 28, it sends a follow-up: “Reminder to put your new ring in. Please text OK to let us know you got this message and took care of business.”
Text messaging has the potential to solve one of the most persistent medical problems: patient non-adherence.
“Mobile Commons made it really easy to integrate text messaging into our clinical care,” Hyden said. “And as a result, we’ve seen real changes in our patients’ behaviors.”