Interventions delivered by mobile phone to help people adhere to medication to prevent cardiovascular disease

Review question

We reviewed the evidence on the effect of interventions delivered by mobile phone to help people in taking their medication to prevent cardiovascular disease (for example, heart attacks and strokes). We found four studies which included 2429 participants.


Around 17.6 million people die from cardiovascular disease every year. Medications can help to prevent cardiovascular disease; however, many people who have been given these medications do not take them as often or as consistently as recommended. This means that the medication will not work as well as it could to prevent cardiovascular disease. Interventions delivered through mobile phones, for example, prompting by text messaging, may be a low cost way to help people to take their medication as recommended.

Study characteristics

The evidence is up to date to June 2017. We found four studies that tested interventions delivered at least partly by mobile phone, which followed up participants for at least 12 months.

Key results

We were not able to combine the results of the four trials because the interventions were very different. The studies were at high risk of bias and the effects of the interventions were inconsistent across studies, and so, we are not confident about their findings. The evidence suggests that interventions delivered by mobile phone may help people to take their medication, but the benefits are small, and some trials found that the interventions did not have any beneficial effect. There was no evidence to suggest that these types of interventions caused harm. The results of trials currently being conducted should tell us the effects of these types of interventions more accurately, and will tell us if they work in a wider range of contexts, including low-income countries.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is low-quality evidence relating to the effects of mobile phone-delivered interventions to increase adherence to medication prescribed for the primary prevention of CVD; some trials reported small benefits while others found no effect. There is low-quality evidence that these interventions do not result in harm. On the basis of this review, there is currently uncertainty around the effectiveness of these interventions. We identified six ongoing trials being conducted in a range of contexts including low-income settings with potential to generate more precise estimates of the effect of primary prevention medication adherence interventions delivered by mobile phone.

Read the full abstract...

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of disability and mortality globally. Premature fatal and non-fatal CVD is considered to be largely preventable through the control of risk factors via lifestyle modifications and preventive medication. Lipid-lowering and antihypertensive drug therapies for primary prevention are cost-effective in reducing CVD morbidity and mortality among high-risk people and are recommended by international guidelines. However, adherence to medication prescribed for the prevention of CVD can be poor. Approximately 9% of CVD cases in the EU are attributed to poor adherence to vascular medications. Low-cost, scalable interventions to improve adherence to medications for the primary prevention of CVD have potential to reduce morbidity, mortality and healthcare costs associated with CVD.


To establish the effectiveness of interventions delivered by mobile phone to improve adherence to medication prescribed for the primary prevention of CVD in adults.

Search strategy: 

We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, and two other databases on 21 June 2017 and two clinical trial registries on 14 July 2017. We searched reference lists of relevant papers. We applied no language or date restrictions.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials investigating interventions delivered wholly or partly by mobile phones to improve adherence to cardiovascular medications prescribed for the primary prevention of CVD. We only included trials with a minimum of one-year follow-up in order that the outcome measures related to longer-term, sustained medication adherence behaviours and outcomes. Eligible comparators were usual care or control groups receiving no mobile phone-delivered component of the intervention.

Data collection and analysis: 

We used standard methodological procedures recommended by Cochrane. We contacted study authors for disaggregated data when trials included a subset of eligible participants.

Main results: 

We included four trials with 2429 randomised participants. Participants were recruited from community-based primary care or outpatient clinics in high-income (Canada, Spain) and upper- to middle-income countries (South Africa, China). The interventions received varied widely; one trial evaluated an intervention focused on blood pressure medication adherence delivered solely through short messaging service (SMS), and one intervention involved blood pressure monitoring combined with feedback delivered via smartphone. Two trials involved interventions which targeted a combination of lifestyle modifications, alongside CVD medication adherence, one of which was delivered through text messages, written information pamphlets and self-completion cards for participants, and the other through a multi-component intervention comprising of text messages, a computerised CVD risk evaluation and face-to-face counselling. Due to heterogeneity in the nature and delivery of the interventions, we did not conduct a meta-analysis, and therefore reported results narratively.

We judged the body of evidence for the effect of mobile phone-based interventions on objective outcomes (blood pressure and cholesterol) of low quality due to all included trials being at high risk of bias, and inconsistency in outcome effects. Of two trials targeting medication adherence alongside other lifestyle modifications, one reported a small beneficial intervention effect in reducing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (mean difference (MD) –9.2 mg/dL, 95% confidence interval (CI) –17.70 to –0.70; 304 participants), and the other found no benefit (MD 0.77 mg/dL, 95% CI –4.64 to 6.18; 589 participants). One trial (1372 participants) of a text messaging-based intervention targeting adherence showed a small reduction in systolic blood pressure (SBP) for the intervention arm which delivered information-only text messages (MD –2.2 mmHg, 95% CI –4.4 to –0.04), but uncertain evidence of benefit for the second intervention arm that provided additional interactivity (MD –1.6 mmHg, 95% CI –3.7 to 0.5). One study examined the effect of blood pressure monitoring combined with smartphone messaging, and reported moderate intervention benefits on SBP and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) (SBP: MD –7.10 mmHg, 95% CI –11.61 to –2.59; DBP: –3.90 mmHg, 95% CI –6.45 to –1.35; 105 participants). There was mixed evidence from trials targeting medication adherence alongside lifestyle advice using multi-component interventions. One trial found large benefits for SBP and DBP (SBP: MD –12.45 mmHg, 95% CI –15.02 to –9.88; DBP: MD –12.23 mmHg, 95% CI –14.03 to –10.43; 589 participants), whereas the other trial demonstrated no beneficial effects on SBP or DBP (SBP: MD 0.83 mmHg, 95% CI –2.67 to 4.33; DBP: MD 1.64 mmHg, 95% CI –0.55 to 3.83; 304 participants).

Two trials reported on adverse events and provided low-quality evidence that the interventions did not cause harm. One study provided low-quality evidence that there was no intervention effect on reported satisfaction with treatment.

Two trials were conducted in high-income countries, and two in upper- to middle-income countries. The interventions evaluated employed between three and 16 behaviour change techniques according to coding using Michie's taxonomic method. Two trials evaluated interventions that involved potential users in their development.