Creating and maintaining a consistent medication schedule is a tedious affair for people with chronic diseases. And depending on how busy they are, it can be easy for them to forget to take their medicine a few days at a time. However, new research published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests a text message intervention could increase odds that patients will take their meds on time.

About 50 percent of patients in developed countries with chronic illnesses adhere to long-term therapy, with worse rates in lower socioeconomic groups and in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization. This low adherence trend is alarming since the phenomenon has been linked to successive hospitalizations, increased need for medical interventions, morbidity, and mortality.

“There is widespread need for convenient and feasible innovations to help patients remain adherent to medications,” researchers wrote.

Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 16 randomized clinical trials involving nearly 3,000 people to assess the effect of mobile messaging intervention on medication adherence in people with chronic disease. The median intervention duration was 12 weeks, and most of the trials relied on self-report to assess medication adherence.

They found text message reminders nearly doubled the odds of medication adherence. Researchers said the increase translates into adherence rates improving from 50 percent to nearly 70 percent. However, researchers warn that the results should be interpreted with caution given the short period of time the trials were conducted and the reliance on self-reported results.

In addition to helping people stabilize their health, the text message intervention could also lower health care costs. Previous studies found that improperly-taken medication led to an increase in health care costs “with estimates from North America of approximately $100 billion being spent annually and $2,000 spent per patient per year in excess physician visits,” researchers wrote.

Getting people to stick to their long-term therapies is a challenge. Many interventions targeting this issue have been tried, including patient education and counseling, health support or interventions from pharmacists or nurses, use of reminders via beepers, pagers, smartphone apps, and automated telephone calls, packaged medications, and frequent clinic visits. These interventions showed mixed success; the most successful strategies usually involved a combination of some of these interventions, but "implementing such complex combination methods is resource intensive and may not be feasible in routine clinical practice,” according to researchers.

The ubiquitous use of mobile phones — nearly two-thirds of Americans have one in their back pocket, including people from all socioeconomic classes, age groups and continents — makes text messaging a feasible platform to deliver electronic medication reminders.

“One unique feature of text message interventions is the ability to offer confidential and unobtrusive support, which is an advantage of text messaging over other electronic reminders such as pagers or beepers,” according to the study.

Previous studies have shown text message programs can help smokers quit at higher rates of success, improve cardiovascular health, and offer support to women suffering from post-partum depression.

Researchers say further study is needed to determine if text messaging interventions influence clinical outcomes and the longevity of these effects.

Source: Thakker J, Kurup R, Laba T, et al. Mobile Telephone Text Messaging for Medication Adherence in Chronic Disease. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016.