Remembering your meds

A blister pack

Although adherence is crucial to ensuring that medications are effective, many people do not take them as prescribed. While some decide to stop or modify their treatment, others simply forget -- after all, forgetting is easy. To address this issue, existing adherence apps for smartphones provide timed alerts to remind patients about their doses. However, this approach disregards the habitual nature of medication-taking and neglects remembering strategies people use in their everyday life.

We're primarily interested in long-term preventative regimens, such as oral contraception. In this context, remembering medications is both a prospective memory and a habitual task: when starting a new behaviour, people have to remember their medications, and with time taking the pills become a part of a daily routine.

Cue reminder app

Based on our research, we have outlined design requirements for smartphone apps that help users associate their medications with a routine event that will serve as a cue. Instead of reminding to take medications at a specific time (standard approach), the apps should remind users about the cue. The goal is to help them fit medication-taking into their daily routine and learn to rely on contextual cues; with time, the app should become obsolete.

We have developed an app that illustrates how our design requirments could be implemented in practice. The app guides users through a step-by-step process to help them find the best daily routine event that can remind about medications. At the end of the process users are given an action plan (e.g. "I will take my Vitamin C after eating breakfast"), which is later reinforced through app reminders. Reminders arrive too early, to encourage users to follow their routine as normal and take the medications after their selected cue. The app tracks the performance and suggests changes if the routine is not working. If it does work, then it means that users may not need the app anymore and with time the reminders stop. The goal is to help them integrate medication-taking into their daily life.

app screenshots


Habit Cookbook

Another app based on our guidelines has been developed by Alec Howells, Alessandro Fael Garcia and Wahidur Rahman. Its source code is available on github. At the moment only Android version is available - try the demo.

app screenshots


People

Key publications