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Mobile phone text messages help people with chronic conditions take medications as prescribed

Thakkar J, Kurup R, Laba T-L et al. Mobile telephone text messaging for medication adherence in chronic disease: A meta-analysis JAMA. 2016;176:340-349.

Review question

Does mobile phone text messaging help encourage people to adhere to their prescribed medication?


Medication adherence (taking medications at the time and dose prescribed) is typically low among people on long-term therapy. Poor adherence to medications is linked to unnecessary hospitalizations, illness and even death. Mobile phone text messages are a simple and accessible way to send reminders and encouragement for people to adhere to their prescribed medication.

How the review was done

This is a meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled trials that included over 2700 participants. Ten of the 16 studies were considered high quality.

Key features of the studies were:

  • Age of participants ranged from 31 – 64 years (average was 39 years)
  • All participants had at least one chronic health condition, including HIV, cardiovascular disease, asthma, diabetes and epilepsy.
  • Study participants received text message reminders to take their medications; some studies also included education information or non-medical content (jokes, etc) in the text messages.
  • Studies differed in the number of weeks people received text message reminders (from 1 month to 1 year) and how often text message reminders were sent (daily reminders were most common).
  • Researchers measured changes in participants’ adherence to their medication while receiving the text message reminders.
  • Results were compared to control groups who received only standard therapy and did not receive the text message reminders

What the researchers found

People who received text message reminders were significantly more likely to adhere to their medications. The type of text message approach and the chronic condition of participants did not affect these results. Most participants found the text message reminders were valuable and wanted to continue receiving them after the study was over. More high quality research is needed to measure the most effective approaches (eg. frequency of text messages, personalization of content, and if some patient groups benefit more than others).


Text message reminders are an effective way to improve medication adherence among people with chronic conditions.



Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
The body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart.

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