SMS reminders don’t work for birth control

By: Brian Dolan | Aug 24, 2010        

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The Pill BookThat is, at least, according to a new study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology: Daily text message reminders did not help the 82 women in the study become more adherent to their birth control pill regimen. Both the text-receiving participants and the control group missed about 5 pills per month. (Worth noting perhaps that, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal about the study, none of the women got pregnant during the three-month study.)

The study tracked adherence based on when a pillbox was opened — not self reports. The patients in the study, however, were aware that their pill boxes had the tracking device installed. In the control group women were encouraged to use their own tricks to remember to take their pill, and these included taking it as the same time as a vitamin or using their mobile phone alarm. About 68 percent in the group used their own reminder system, which may account for why both groups showed similar rates of adherence, according to the study’s author who works at Boston University School of Medicine.

We have reported on a number of studies where text message reminders did have an effect on medication adherence: Last year, a study published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that text message reminders increased adherence to medication regimens among new liver transplant patients at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. More importantly: It led to better outcomes.

Leap of Faith Technologies has studied whether text messages preloaded on patients’ mobile phones are more effective than those sent over wireless networks (they work on no-mobile-phone-zones like airplanes, after all.)

The new study on text message reminders and birth control regimens serves as yet another reminder that mobile technology is not a panacea for healthcare. As former Novartis CEO Dan Vasella said last year: “These solutions are all fine and good, but I do not believe these technical approaches will solve the equation. People are not just machines. People are human beings with social, biological and psychological aspects that need to be addressed” if these solutions are to be effective.

To Vasella’s point, there are a number of companies leveraging mobile beyond the text message in the medication adherence realm. A much wider spectrum for wireless-enabled medication adherence services already exists: Proteus Biomedical might be at one end, while GlowCaps is at the other. Vitality’s GlowCaps recently demonstrated 98 percent adherence in a study conducted at Partners Health Care in Boston.

Read more about the birth control adherence study over at the WSJ Health Blog