A mobile phone text message program to measure oral antibiotic use and provide feedback on adherence to patients discharged from the emergency department

Acad Emerg Med. 2012 Aug;19(8):949-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2012.01411.x. Epub 2012 Jul 31.


Objectives: Nonadherence to prescribed medications impairs therapeutic benefits. The authors measured the ability of an automated text messaging (short message service [SMS]) system to improve adherence to postdischarge antibiotic prescriptions.

Methods: This was a randomized controlled trial in an urban emergency department (ED) with an annual census of 65,000. A convenience sample of adult patients being discharged with a prescription for oral antibiotics was enrolled. Participants received either a daily SMS query about prescription pickup, and then dosage taken, with educational feedback based on their responses (intervention), or the usual printed discharge instructions (control). A standardized phone follow-up interview was used on the day after the intended completion date to determine antibiotic adherence: 1) the participant filled prescription within 24 hours of discharge and 2) no antibiotic pills were left on the day after intended completion of prescription.

Results: Of the 200 patients who agreed to participate, follow-up was completed in 144 (72%). From the 144, 26% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 19% to 34%) failed to fill their discharge prescriptions during the first 24 hours, and 37% (95% CI = 29% to 45%) had pills left over, resulting in 49% (95% CI = 40% to 57%) nonadherent patients. There were no differences in adherence between intervention participants and controls (57% vs. 45%; p = 0.1). African American race, greater than twice-daily dosing, and self-identifying as expecting to have difficulty filling or taking antibiotics at baseline were associated with nonadherence.

Conclusions: Almost one-half (49%) of our patients do not adhere to antibiotic prescriptions after ED discharge. Future work should improve the design and deployment of SMS interventions to optimize their effect on improving adherence to medication after ED discharge.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Phone*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Discharge
  • Reminder Systems / instrumentation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Text Messaging*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents