Study: Text messaging improves medication adherence for teens

Well, it was inevitable. If any demographic group would embrace text messaging for healthcare, it would have to be teenagers, right? Even for the most serious of ailments.

A new study in Pediatrics shows that text messaging really can help adolescents stick to their prescribed regimens, even when that regimen is to prevent rejection of a transplanted liver. Among a small study group of 41 young liver transplant recipients, those who received text reminders to take their medication were more likely to take their meds than they were before the messaging started.

"Text messaging could be used with almost any chronic disease and with anyone who has memory problems or just needs reminders," said lead author Dr. Tamir Miloh, assistant professor of pediatrics and surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "This kind of communication can only help to enhance the relationship between patients and their clinicians.

A column in the New York Times helps humanize the study. Columnist Dr. Pauline W. Chen, a transplant surgeon herself, tells the story of "Gina," a patient who received a liver transplant as a baby. Gina was mostly healthy through her childhood, but began to deteriorate after turning 14. Writes Chen: "I remember visiting Gina one afternoon, then speaking to her longtime liver doctor. 'It's such a pity,' the doctor said, shaking her head. 'She's no different than every other teenager, except that her youthful indiscretions are a matter of life or death.'"

Chen continues: "I recently thought about Gina and patients like her when a friend recounted a night out at the movies with his own teenage children. While he and his wife sobbed, his children sat in the theater unmoved. 'They were doing this,' my friend said, folding his hands in his lap and flapping his thumbs wildly while looking up and down between an imaginary movie screen and an invisible qwerty keyboard. 'I started thinking I should text them the next time I want to get their attention.'"

It could be the best way to get through to a teen, healthy or otherwise.

To read more about text messaging and medication adherence:
- check out Chen's New York Times column
- see the Pediatrics study abstract