Texting to help manage high blood pressure?
Researchers from the University of Oxford recruited 1,300 participants that had been diagnosed with hypertension. Hypertension – or high blood pressure – affects 70 million adults in the United States, and if left uncontrolled, increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other vascular conditions.
Participants were split into three groups as a part of the study. One group received weekly text messages with medication reminders and educational messages about treating high blood pressure. The second group received the same messages, but were able to respond to the automated service in order to change reminder times or change or cancel medical appointments. The third group continued to receive the same care they’d received before joining the study.
At the end, researchers found that using an automated text messaging reminder service led to significant improvements in blood pressure in study participants. In addition, all participants saw an overall decrease in blood pressure, but the group that received the text reminders saw greater decreases in their blood pressure, took their medications more often and were more likely to have achieved a healthy blood pressure than the control group.
“People miss their medications for many reasons, which is dangerous because every missed dose has the potential to do harm,” said Dr. Srinivas Reddy, cardiologist at Advocate Heart Institute at South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Sometimes people simply forget to take their medication or lack the resources to obtain them. I have come to learn that patients often dose split – taking medication once daily instead of twice daily — due to affordability issues.”
Dr. Reddy says physicians should make a concerted effort to assess affordability, and also know what local resources are available for their patients. For instance, many big-box store pharmacies now offer generic versions of expensive hypertension medications at very low prices.
“Anything we can do to help people get and use their medications properly has the potential to save lives,” says Dr. Reddy.
The researchers said the impact of the text message service was as good as expected via one-on-one counseling, which requires significantly more resources. Preliminary research has also shown success with text messaging services with other kinds of medications.
“Remembering to take medication on time and as prescribed can be difficult for many, which in turn makes it harder for them to get and stay well,” says Dr. Reddy. “If effective, simple and low-cost interventions like these could significantly improve the lives of people suffering from chronic diseases, especially as the use of cell phones continues to grow around the world. Help could one day, literally, be in the palm of everyone’s hands.”