By Bliss Mishler at Coffee Break Medical Marketing

Man looking at pill bottle

People don’t always take their medications.

This simple, frustrating, fact costs the United States billions of dollars a year and renders your patient care less effective. While some patients intentionally don’t take what you have prescribed, many just forget or get confused about dosage and timing. Even motivated, fully informed adults forget sometimes. This is where smartphone mobile reminder apps have the potential to help a lot of people.

Sixty four percent of American adults own a smartphone, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report. Of those, a majority use their phones to access healthcare information. To accommodate these users, health management apps are coming out all the time. A quick search on the iTunes store for “medication reminder” apps will bring up about a hundred examples.

Many of these apps work by sending reminders via text message. And according to that same Pew report, text messaging was the most frequently used feature or app used by smartphone owners. They found that 100% of young adults (age 18–29) used their phones for texting as did 92% of owners age 50 and above. So, chances are your patients or their caregivers will not only own a smartphone, they will also be able to use these apps.

You won’t be alone in recommending these either. A 2015 survey by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society found nearly 90 percent of healthcare providers engage with their patients using mobile technology.

How do these apps work?

Medication reminder apps can be customized by the user to include their full list of medications and prescribed use. Some apps also provide drug interaction alerts, and allow for allergic reactions to be recorded. Many are customizable for multiple users and a caregiver too.

The apps generate a text, sound, or vibration alarm for each medication, its dose and the time it’s due. Users may choose to take the medication as schedule, reschedule the dose, or dismiss the notification until next time.

In addition to helping patients and their caretakers remember which medication to take when, the data collected in these apps can be useful to the clinician. It offers an alternative to patient self-reports, which are not always reliable. Now when you ask about his medications, your patient can just show you his phone.

Another benefit of these apps is the information they can provide about your patients when they see other physicians, in the ER for example. This comprehensive list of medications and dosages for a patient will go a long way toward providing the best care possible.

Which apps are the best?

You can use the star ratings in the AppStore or Google Play, or just ask your patients. Some may already be using these apps and they can tell you what they like (or don’t like) about them. Your colleagues can also be a great resource.

The American Pharmacist Association recently released a 2015 update to their app recommendations. Here is their list of highest-rated free medication adherence apps.

  1. Medisafe
  2. Mango Health
  3. Dosecast
  4. MedCoach
  5. Glucose Buddy

Authors of a 2015 review titled “Application of mobile phones in epilepsy care” mention the app DoseCast. They say, “Patient’ treatment compliance […] for an effective anti-epileptic drug therapy can greatly be enhanced with the assistance of such apps.”

If you are still not sure, an article titled “Smart medication reminders for the tech-savvy patient” published in April, 2015 by U.S. News and World Report, details the stories of several patients who have benefited from the app MyMedSchedule.

Whether you end up recommending one of these apps or not, it doesn’t hurt to add a few more tools to your belt. Personal technology and the rapid integration of health apps into our everyday lives is growing fast, whether we like it or not. Get on board now and you can help your patients make the best choices going forward.