Saturday, January 16, 2010

Text reminder to take epilepsy tablets

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Brain waves in epilepsy: Pic: Sovereign, ISM, SPL
Forgetting pills can trigger Ben's epilepsy

Ben Davey needs to take 20 tablets of four different types each day - so it is no surprise that sometimes he forgets them. But forgetting can have serious consequences for the 34-year-old Londoner. Ben has epilepsy and forgetting to take his pills can cause him to have a seizure. "For many years I have had about three fits a year," said Ben, who has had epilepsy since puberty.

Fit increase

But when doctors changed his drug regime this year he started getting confused and his seizures increased.

"My fits increased to about 30 this year. I don't want to give the wrong impression that the sole cause of me having a fit was my forgetting, but if I was to forget, the likelihood is I would probably have a fit. If I was taking the same tablets every day it would be easier not to forget, but as they were introducing one medication they were fading out another."

"I was thinking 'I have to got to take one less of this coloured one, one more of this coloured one'. I would say, 'I am going to have a shower and then take my tablet' and then I would be on the bus and wouldn't remember whether I had taken them and there was no knowing."

New service

Now the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN), where Ben is treated, has launched a new service to help patients manage their condition. The service will use text messaging to remind patients to take their medication and has a facility to alert carers if they do not respond to a text saying they have taken the tablets. There will also be a web-based patient diary where patients can record their responses to medication, seizures and any injuries sustained during them.

Anthony Linklater, epilepsy specialist nurse, said that what seemed such a simple idea had taken years to plan. "In the past hospitals used to just give medication and send people on their way," he said. "This is just going one step further and as we are introducing the system we are thinking of different ideas. Poor adherence is the main cause of unsuccessful drug treatment."

Pill routine

Professor John Duncan, Professor of Neurology, agreed, "Most individuals with epilepsy have to take medication regularly in order to achieve the best possible control of their seizures, but remembering to take medication can be problematic for some. Taking medication accurately can become quite complicated when it is adjusted as this is usually done in gradual steps over a period of time. We hope that the additional support provided by this service will help some people to manage their medication more effectively which could help to improve the control of their epilepsy."

The NHNN is the first to introduce the system and already has its first few patients signed up for its year-long pilot.

Simon Wigglesworth, deputy chief executive at Epilepsy Action, said he was excited by the potential offered. "Alerts reminding people to take their anti-epileptic drugs could be effective in ensuring they take their medication accurately and on time. An online patient diary could be useful in helping people monitor their epilepsy, and would be particularly valuable for doctors assessing patients with the condition."

Ben, who plans to sign up early this year, says it will make a big difference to his life. The new service would be amazing," he said. You know the feeling when you are just gong to work or the shops and you think, 'Hang on, did I turn the oven off?'

"For me taking a tablet is such an important thing. If I could know that I had definitely done that it would be great."

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