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Reminder App May Improve Adherence to Antidepressants

April 29, 2014

By Rob Goodier

NEW YORK - A mobile phone app that reminds patients to take their antidepressant medication may boost adherence, new research suggests.

In a 30-day randomized controlled study of 40 college students, those who used the app were 3.5 times more likely to take their medicine as directed, defined as taking 80% of their medication without overdosing, although the result fell just short of being statistically significant (p=0.057).

Tracy Hammonds, a doctoral candidate in experimental psychology at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, and her colleagues presented the research on April 23 at the annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine in Philadelphia.

"I think this abstract is a nice example of leveraging ubiquitous technology in college populations (smartphones) to address the critical issue of less than adequate adherence to medications," David Ahern, Director of the Program in Behavioral Informatics and EHealth at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the research, told Reuters Health by email.

"Reminders have been shown to improve adherence to medications in prior studies. This is particularly important in the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders which require consistent use and appropriate dosing," Ahern says.

The app used in the study is not available to the public, but there are other reminder apps available for download, both for free and at a low cost.

"I would suggest that people who are planning on using a medication reminder app choose one that has a history log that will allow them to monitor their success at managing their medication use," Hammonds says.

Hammonds and her team made three other findings in their study. First, the students who underused their medication scored 20% higher on a measure of "irrational health beliefs." That is, beliefs that are not based on medical evidence.

The same holds for students who use illegal drugs, who were 3.4 times more likely to not adhere to their medication regimen.

"Unfortunately, students prescribed antidepressant medications have a high occurrence of illicit drug use, with approximately 37% of the students endorsing having used at least one illicit drug in the 1 month prior to participating in the study," Hammonds says.

And finally, students who saw a mental health professional for their depression were 1.5 times more likely to not adhere to their medication. The finding was unexpected, Hammonds says.

"We believe that this may be due to the complexity or type of mental health illness they were experiencing, but more research is required to determine the actual causation," Hammonds says.

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