Cincinnati Children's Hospital study finds app improves medication adherence among adolescents

By Heather Mack
03:33 pm

Cincinnati-based MedaCheckwhich makes a medication reminder platform that can be used on a smartphone or tablet, recently finished a medication adherence study with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, finding that the digital tool significantly improved medication use among adolescents.

The study looked at 40 adolescents between the age of 13 and 20 who were receiving treatment for chronic headaches at the hospital’s outpatient clinic. Patients who took medication for their headaches used the MedaCheck app, for their ongoing treatment reminders. If they didn’t take it, notifications and follow-up calls would go to both their parents and designated caregivers. The median rate of adherence for those that used both the MedaCheck app and the support calls was over 85 percent, which is significant for a population that usually has medication adherence rates in the low 40 percent range.

“Traditionally, this is a group that has terrible adherence scores, but this is a case where technology really works for this particular demographic,” MedaCheck CEO and founder Jeffrey Shepard told MobiHealthnews in an interview. “What we are using is something they have a great relationship with; they are carrying their phone all the time anyway.”

Not only is a smartphone something adolescents are, generally speaking, more than happy to interact with, but using the app gave them another personal satisfaction, Shepard said.

“On a psychological level, this really clicked with them because it gave them a sense of independence,” he said. 

Parents wouldn’t be notified unless they missed their medication, so users of the app could be perceived more as the young adults they are versus someone who constantly has to be watched for their health behavior.

“They are adolescents, they have that rebellious side, they are trying to seek more independence and parents are trying to encourage it, and we don’t really have good data to tell us when to let them take over. It’s not because they are being obstinate, but just cognitively and emotionally, they don’t want to be told what to,” Kevin Hommel, the hospital’s director of health technology research, told MobiHealthNews.

While this study was small and focused on a group using fairly simple medication plans – about one medication per day – the embrace of the MedaCheck app was encouraging enough that the company and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital are exploring other disease populations to put it to use.

“Adolescents were never on our radar screen before,” said Shepard. “This was designed for an older population with serious, chronic conditions with complex medication regiments, but we met some folks and started to learn how much this was needed in the adolescent population. We were really surprised with the result and this has really changed what we are looking at going forward.”

Shepard said MedaCheck is exploring more partnerships for future studies with adolescents.

“This has gone from being a pilot program in a small group and we’re now looking at a big chunk of the population with more complex conditions – asthma, diabetes, cardiology issues,” said Shepard. “We’re really thinking about using it across the board.”

The study also shed light on the impact it has on the family. Having an app to keep up with medication reminders as adolescents age and go to college offers both independence for the young adults and peace of mind for the parents.

“Anecdotally, this type of tool allows the conversation to be less of a focus on ‘Did you do what you are supposed to do?’ and more of ‘How is everything going in your life?’” said Hommel.  “If the parent isn’t having to follow up, it creates opportunity for less conflict. Let the app do the reminding and the follow-up, because kids don’t want to be bothered and it’s the natural instinct of anybody to not want to be told what to do.”


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