Text messaging service 'helps people take their pills'
A text messaging service could help people remember to take the medicines they have been prescribed, say researchers.
A test scheme, which involved heart patients, cut the numbers who forgot or just stopped taking their pills.
One in six was helped to continue their treatment, reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke.
It has been estimated that the NHS spends more than £500m on wasted medicines and avoidable illness.
Other research has shown around a third of patients do not take their medicine as directed.
Study leader Prof David Wald said text reminders could be used by GPs, hospital doctors and pharmacists for a range of different conditions, including diabetes, TB and HIV.
In the study, published in Plos ONE, 300 patients who were already on blood pressure medicines or statins were either sent daily texts for two weeks followed by a fortnight of alternate days, then weekly texts for six months, or no texts at all.
Participants had to reply to say whether they had taken their medication, whether the message had reminded them to take it if they had forgotten, or whether they had simply not taken it.
Anyone who had not taken their medicine was flagged up by a computer and received a telephone call to offer advice.
Of those who did not receive texts, 25% stopped taking their medicine completely, or took less than 80% of it.
In the text group, that figure was 9% - 14 out of 150 patients.
There were only three patients who did not start taking the medicine again after receiving advice.
Prof Wald, consultant cardiologist at Queen Mary University of London, said there was a range of reasons why people stopped taking their medicine, including uncertainty over the need for treatment and concerns over potential side-effects, often prompted by negative reports of statins they had read in the media.
"In general, patients really valued the text messages and were disappointed when they stopped."
David Taylor, emeritus professor of pharmaceutical and public health policy at University College London, said text messaging could be coupled with each relevant prescription and prevent several thousand heart attacks and strokes in the UK annually.
It could also be used for other diseases, he said.
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, added that the study was small but encouraging.
"It's crucial that heart patients take prescribed treatments to control their blood pressure and cholesterol as it helps reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
"Carrying out a larger study over a longer period would help establish the full extent of the benefits of sending this type of reminders to patients."