Pharmacy Times

Smartphone Study Outlines Adherence App Potential

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Medication adherence smartphone apps present a potential solution to the problem of nonadherence, according to research from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Pharmacy.

The study, which appeared in the March/April 2013 edition of Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, discussed the potential for smartphone applications to improve nonadherence and catalogued the features of available apps. The study is the first of its kind, according to a press release from the university.

The research focused on apps for the 3 main smartphone operating systems—Apple, Android, and BlackBerry—and used a ranking system based on attributes the researchers found desirable in an adherence app to find the top 10 apps. Those 10 apps were later researcher-tested.

Adherence apps MyMedSchedule, MyMeds, and RxmindMe earned the highest ratings from the study’s authors. The search of online marketplaces for each smartphone system yielded 160 total medication adherence apps. Approximately half of the apps have a charge associated with use.

The most frequently seen features included ability to send medication reminders without Internet connectivity, dose tracking, and ability to sync, export, or print adherence data, according to researchers.

Researchers noted that there are a greater number of medication adherence apps available for the Android operating system, while advanced features, such as the ability to accommodate multiple patient profiles and export data, were more common on iPhone apps.

Researchers indicated that the features they prefer in adherence apps include the ability to generate reminders without wireless or cellular connectivity, HIPAA compliance, and web-based components that care providers or patients can access. They also favor apps with medication databases for the ability to eliminate user error, and the ability to enter medication profiles for multiple people.

Despite the multitude of features, app developers have not yet tapped into all the available resources, researchers noted.

“One of the things the app space is not doing is incorporating pharmacists into the process,” study co-author Bradley C. Martin, PharmD, PhD, said in an interview with Pharmacy Times. “There aren’t any I’m aware of that are incorporated into a pharmacy dispensing system or an electronic medical record or [use] a physician or a nurse practitioner to help reconcile the medication and to help with setting up the reminders.”

“There are so many computer systems that have a perfect medication list of what the patient takes and when they take it and being able to sync that with an app with very little effort, that’s where we hope this is going,” said study coauthor Seth Heldenbrand, PharmD.

Members of the research team are working with a leading app manufacturer to make improvements to its marketed app. Several additional app manufacturers have expressed interest in their findings too, though the researchers are not yet able to reveal the names of those manufacturers.

“None of the apps that we tested ticked all of the boxes that we thought were valuable features for patients and providers,” Dr. Heldenbrand said. “We are excited about working with someone to try and help their app check more of those boxes and be of better quality to health care providers and patients.”

The researchers recognize, however, that even the most fully featured app cannot completely solve the complex problem of nonadherence.

“I think this is going to be a technology that can help some people who have trouble remembering taking their medications. . . I don’t think anyone is viewing this as a silver bullet,” Dr. Martin said. “We think this is going to be one of the tools that patients or clinicians can pull off the shelf that will work for some patients.”

“I think pharmacist–patient counseling has been the most effective thing to improve nonadherence, especially with patients taking more than 6 medications,” Dr. Heldenbrand said. “What we’re hoping these apps can do is fill that gap and assist the patients when they are not in the presence of a health care provider.”