An interesting new study reviews the use of cell phones as a component in the treatment of methamphetamine addiction.
Researchers say that sending cell phone pictures of medications before taking them may provide a simple but effective way to monitor compliance with prescribed treatment protocols.
Cell phones are ubiquitous, and less expensive than monitoring systems. Moreover, the picture provides a time stamp improving compliance monitoring.
The study is found in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
“Clinicians asking their patients to photograph themselves while taking medications may serve as another way of stressing the importance of medication taking,” according to the new research by Gannt P. Galloway, and colleagues of California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, San Francisco.
In the study, researchers provided camera-equipped cellular phones to 20 patients taking a prescription medication (modafinil) to treat methamphetamine dependence.
Before taking their daily medication, patients were instructed to take a picture of the capsule in their hand, then e-mail the photo to the research center.
The cell phone pictures were compared with two other approaches to assessing medication compliance: a “medication event monitoring system” (MEMS), which is a special pill bottle that electronically records each time the bottle is opened; and pill counts, where researchers simply counted the patient’s supply of capsules at each clinic visit.
Although the estimated adherence rate was less among those using the cell phones, researchers say analysis of weekly data suggested that the cell phone method tended to underestimate treatment compliance, compared to pill counts.
By comparison, the MEMS tended to overestimate compliance. “MEMS overestimation could be explained by subjects opening the bottle without taking a pill, while the photograph underestimation could be explained by subjects failing to send a photograph,” Dr. Galloway and coauthors write.
Based on timestamps on the cell phone photos, patients who took their medication at a consistent time each day had higher treatment compliance rates.
Compliance was unrelated to how long the patients used methamphetamine or to methamphetamine cravings.
Although use of the cell phones has limitations, the new study suggests that camera-equipped cell phones provide a useful and cost-effective approach for monitoring compliance with recommended treatment.
Given the ubiquity of cell phone use, the devices could have other health care applications as well, Dr. Galloway and colleagues believe: “Innovative uses of cellular telephones offer researchers and clinicians new ways to improve clinical trials and practice.”