For people who want to take their prescribed medications but have trouble remembering, an automated system that monitors drug taking and provides feedback after the fact may be more useful than one that nags people when it is time to take a pill, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say.
In a 10-month study of such a system in the homes of older adults with chronic health problems, the researchers found that adherence to a medication regimen improved when people had ready access to a digital display of their medication-taking record. These people were more likely to take the correct medication promptly and at the same time of day than people who didn't receive the ongoing feedback.
What's important is that people feel that they are in control of their medication habits and that they obtain information that enables them to make improvements if necessary, said Anind Dey, associate professor in CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute, in a prepared statement.
Other systems have been developed that prompt patients when it is time to take their medications. But they can interfere with other routines, do nothing to reinforce an individual's initiative and may undermine a person's sense of autonomy, according to the researchers.
This study involved 12 people in a Pittsburgh apartment building for low-income, older adults, who agreed to use a pillbox equipped with a sensor to register when they took each medication. These people had multiple chronic conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and high blood pressure.
For the first two months, the medication-taking performance of each subject was recorded. Then half were given a tablet computer that provided a continually updated display of their medication-taking activities, while the other half were given no additional feedback. The feedback group improved their adherence rate from 95 percent to 98 percent. They also improved the promptness of pill taking from 75 percent to 91 percent, increased the correctness of what they took from 95 percent to 99 percent and significantly reduced variation from day to day in the time when they took their medications. The group that received no feedback saw no improvement in those measures.
Dey said the improvements dissipated when the feedback was removed, suggesting that continuous monitoring and feedback would be beneficial, but added that the most optimal frequency of the feedback is yet to be determined.