Health IT

Can technology improve medication adherence after a heart attack?

Can using wireless technology, financial incentives and social support improve medication adherence in heart attack survivors? A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine dives in.

Integrating technology into the healthcare system is no longer unconventional. From helping clinicians keep track of data to assisting patients as they track their own health, technology’s benefits are numerous.

But does technology make a difference in every situation? How about when it comes to outcomes after a heart attack?

A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine found the answer is … no.

The analysis concluded that when compared to usual care, using wireless technology, financial incentives and social support didn’t improve patient outcomes after a heart attack.

As part of the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recruited 1,509 participants, all of whom had experienced a heart attack. They were each hospital inpatients for between one and 180 days but were eventually discharged. Additionally, they were all prescribed at least two of the following drugs: statin, aspirin, beta blocker and antiplatelet agent.

The patients’ average age was 61, and they were all insured with five U.S. insurers or with Medicare fee-for-service at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

In an effort to observe medication adherence, researchers randomly split the patients into two groups. The first group included 506 patients, all of whom were given usual care. The other 1,003 patients utilized electronic pill bottles, lottery incentives and social support as part of their medication adherence protocol.

The results? Over a 12 month time period, technology, financial incentives and social support didn’t make much of a difference in improving outcomes.

“Mean medication adherence did not differ between control and intervention,” the study claims. “Mean medical costs in 12 months following enrollment did not differ between control and intervention.”

This news doesn’t bode well for those who had high hopes of technology helping patients take their proper medications.

“What we found was a little bit surprising and a little bit disappointing,” Dr. Kevin Volpp, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics and one of the study’s authors, said during a post-study podcast.

Dr. David Asch, executive director of the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, agreed. “It was a surprise,” he said in the podcast. “We went into this study thinking that it would be effective and it wasn’t.”

Still, the results don’t mean there’s no hope. Asch said the results don’t make him discouraged. “I’m not willing to give up on this and say that it didn’t work, although we did not find evidence that it did work,” he said.

Instead, he pointed to how the study results can help inform the design of other studies and interventions going forward.

Photo: Martin Barraud, Getty Images