Nearly everyone forgets to pick up prescription medicine now and then. But automated phone and mail reminders can help, particularly for seniors and individuals with memory problems.
That’s the chief finding of new research that shows patients newly prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medication were more likely to pick it up from the pharmacy if they received automated phone and mail notices to do so.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine today, suggests courtesy reminders could be an important and inexpensive way to boost pill-taking and be sure patients are taking their medicine.
"Getting patients to take the well-proven medicines their physicians prescribe for them will ultimately reduce their risk of heart attacks and stroke," said lead researcher Dr. Stephen F. Derose, of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation. "This automated intervention is a good way to very efficiently reach a large number of people and improve their health outcomes."
The study, which involved 5,216 Kaiser Permanente Southern California patients, found that those who received an automated reminder were 1.6 times more likely to fill prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering statins than those who didn't receive a reminder. The phone calls were automatically generated if a patient did not pick up drugs within one or two weeks after a prescription was written. One week after the call, researchers sent a follow-up reminder letter to patients.
The percentage of patients who picked up their prescriptions after the reminders increased from 26 percent to 42 percent. Costs for both these prompts totaled $1.70 per participant in the study.
Past studies have found medication non-adherence contributes to approximately 125,000 deaths and costs the health care system $290 billion each year. One in three patients prescribed a medication never pick it up from the pharmacy, and nearly three in four Americans do not take prescription drugs according to health providers' orders.
"Given the prevalence of the problem, especially among patients with chronic conditions, minor improvements in medication adherence among groups of people should yield significantly better health outcomes for patients and savings for hospitals and health systems," said Derose.
This study was funded through a collaboration with Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck & Co. Inc.