Text messaging patients reminders to take their medicines could help boost treatment adherence, suggest findings of a small study published in the journal Plos ONE.

In the trial, by researchers from Queen Mary University of London, patients taking blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering medicines were sent texts daily for two weeks, on alternate days for two weeks and weekly thereafter for 22 weeks (six months overall) via an automated computer programme. 

Of those patients not receiving any texts, 25% (of 151) took less than 80% of their prescribed regimen, but this proportion dropped significantly to 9% of patients (150) who had received text reminders. 

Also, it was found that the texts reminded 65% to take medication on at least one occasion and prompted 13% who had ceased taking medication because of efficacy/side-effects concerns to resume treatment, the researchers said.

Around one third of patients prescribed blood pressure or lipid-lowering drugs for the prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke fail to take their medication as prescribed.

While this study is small, given that more than 90% of the UK public owns a mobile phone it does suggest that text reminders could potentially provide a significant health benefit to patients in this setting.

However, further research is needed to determine whether this benefit would be sustained long-term, or indeed whether it applies to other chronic illnesses such as HIV, the researchers note.

Poor adherence to medicines is estimated to cost the NHS an eye-watering £500 million a year.