Medication-Compliance App Aids Doctors as Well as Patients

Medication compliance is an issue that not only impacts patients, but families, caregivers, and healthcare professionals as well. So when a recent study for a mobile phone application designed to improve medication compliance turned up encouraging results, it signaled an important step forward.

Medication compliance is an issue that not only impacts patients, but families, caregivers, and healthcare professionals as well. So when a recent study for a mobile phone application designed to improve medication compliance turned up encouraging results, it signaled an important step forward.

The study, conducted at the George Washington University Medical Center and funded by a grant from Qualcomm Inc.’s “Wireless Reach” initiative, found that a small group of 50 Medicaid patients with chronic hypertension not only were willing to receive and act on medication reminders sent to their cell phones, but they posted average user satisfaction of 4.3 out of 5.0.

“[Study results are] important because they show a trend that people are willing to use this technology,” says Tom Evangelisti, president of wireless health for Vocel Inc., makers of the Pill Phone, the smartphone that was the subject of the GWU study. “They found it simple and helpful.”

The benefits of the Pill Phone, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, include enhancing a medical practice’s efficiency and productivity, say healthcare professionals.

Enhancing Practice Efficiency

Ilene Klein, MD, a San Diego-based physician employed by Take Care Health Systems, a Walgreens Health and Wellness Company, says she is intrigued by the Pill Phone’s ability to leverage a limited set of staffing resources.

For patients who are just starting a new medication regimen, or patients who are struggling with a certain medication, “if we agree that we’re going to share information about whether they’re taking the medication, then it allows me to target those people who are at high risk but low compliance,” says Klein, who formerly worked in private practice. “You can apply that to people with diabetes, with congestive heart failure, or people you’re starting on medications and are worried about in terms of the ability to adhere to a regimen.”

Klein says that ability to target high-risk/low-compliance patients also frees up clinicians to increase access in their practices. Many physicians have to bring patients back more frequently than usual, particularly when starting someone on a new medication, to make sure that they’re adhering to their treatment regimen, she says. With a medication-compliance app, those visits can now be freed up for somebody else. “With really simple ways of reworking workflow and job descriptions, you can really enhance efficiency and productivity of your staff by improving the health of your patients,” Klein says.

Target Management

Vocel’s Evangelisti says that from a physician perspective, if a patient is seeing multiple doctors and is on multiple medications, they’d be able to provide their family doctor with a printed or online list of their entire medication-compliance history.

Doctors are already used to similar technology, such as Epocrates, he notes. “In fact, several have told me, ‘This is basically ePocrates for my patients,’” he says. “And I said, ‘That’s it.’ If you have a problem patient, this is a really good solution for them.”

Take Care Health’s Klein agrees. “If I have a whole bunch of diabetic patients, it’s complex management. So for me to be able to look and say, okay, which one of my patients is not taking their medications regularly … those are the people who my nurse or I can reach out to,” she says, estimating that about 5% of her 50 diabetic patients are not compliant. “Now, I’m going to ask somebody when they come in, are you taking the meds, when are you taking them … but you think about the power of getting that in real time, you have a better sense of where you want to direct your limited attention and resources. And I think that’s really fantastic.”

Vocel’s Evangelisti adds that the Pill Phone enables physicians and patients to work together to enhance medication compliance: “If a doctor wanted to, and a patient shared their PIN number, the doctor could go onto the Pill Phone website, change their medication, increase the dose, delete a dose -- anything that is necessary.

And, adds, Take Care Health’s Klein, the application is easy to use. “The reality is, you could have the coolest application, but if it’s too complicated, nobody is using it. And that’s the same for providers too,” she says. “We’re busy, it has to be clean, it has to be un-redundant, and it has to be really simple. And it doesn’t get easier than the Pill Phone to set things up.”