Are Pillbox Apps Just Nagging Parents In Disguise?

Getting patients to take their pills requires something more than an app -- it's called finesse.

Getting patients to take their pills requires something more than an app — it’s called finesse.

We’re big fans of technology here at Atlas MD. We bring our iPads into the examination room. We field phone calls from our patients. We’ve coordinated prescriptions and medications with pharmacies and then texted timely information to patients in need. Dr. Doug has literally brought tears of joy to a woman’s eyes for such an effort. So you’d think that helping people take their pills would be the perfect thing for a mobile app to do, right?

Well, there plenty of apps offering this service on the app store. But are they getting people to take their pills?

Iodine thinks these reminder apps might need to do more that just “remind.” They imagine a “new approach to pill box apps, one where the focus is on motivating more than nagging.” The real goal for doctors then should be to instill a long-term self-reliance in our patients.

You know the common saying across medical professionals, though: “Drugs don’t work on people that don’t take them.” And there’s no denying that non-adherence is a major problem in healthcare. Sepideh Ansari has noted, “Non-adherence creates a massive burden that amounts to ‘10% of hospital admissions, 23% of admissions to nursing homes and has been estimated to cost $100 billion each year in the US.'”

So what do we think will get patients to take their pills? Comprehension, plain and simple. When patients know why they are taking a pill, they know why they need to TAKE a pill. Without comprehension, there is no internal-motivation (to be fair, this is a parenting buzzword). But buzzwords aside, we think that our mature relationship with patients is the foundation of learning (our patients can literally call us in the middle of the night, for no additional cost). Sure, we all vary in terms of biological/technical understanding. But a doctor’s role should be to learn powerful communication techniques — analogies, metaphors, stories, etc. — so they can teach their patients HOW they are taking care of themselves.

The app will always just be an app. Getting a patient to take their pills requires something fundamentally deeper — a relationship. Isn’t that why we take pride in practicing direct care? We’re allowed the time to actually do that.