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Open Access Research article

Pilot study of an interactive voice response system to improve medication refill compliance

Kristen Reidel1*, Robyn Tamblyn12, Vaishali Patel14 and Allen Huang13

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical and Health Informatics Research Group, McGill University, 1140 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1A3, Canada

2 Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health, McGill University, 1040 Pine Avenue West, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1A2, Canada

3 Division of Geriatric Medicine, McGill University Health Centre, Royal Victoria Hospital, 687 Pine Avenue West Room M8.12, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1A1, Canada

4 Department of Pediatrics, Weill Cornell Medical College, 411 E.69th Street, NY, NY 10021, USA

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2008, 8:46  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-8-46

Published: 9 October 2008



Sub-optimal adherence to prescribed medications is well documented. Barriers to medication adherence include medication side effects, cost, and forgetting to take or refill medications. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems show promise as a tool for reminding individuals to take or refill medications. This pilot study evaluated the feasibility and acceptability of using an IVR system for prescription refill and daily medication reminders. We tested two novel features: personalized, medication-specific reminder messages and communication via voice recognition.


Patients enrolled in a study of electronic prescribing and medication management in Quebec, Canada who were taking chronic disease-related drugs were eligible to participate. Consenting patients had their demographic, telephone, and medication information transferred to an IVR system, which telephoned patients to remind them to take mediations and/or refill their prescriptions. Facilitators and barriers of the IVR system use and acceptability of the IVR system were assessed through a structured survey and open-ended questions administered by telephone interview.


Of the 528 eligible patients who were contacted, 237 refused and 291 consented; 99 participants had started the pilot study when it was terminated because of physician and participant complaints. Thirty-eight participants completed the follow-up interview. The majority found the IVR system's voice acceptable, and did not have problems setting up the time and location of reminder calls. However, many participants experienced technical problems when called for reminders, such as incorrect time of calls and voice recognition difficulties. In addition, most participants had already refilled their prescriptions when they received the reminder calls, reporting that they did not have difficulties remembering to refill prescriptions on their own. Also, participants were not receptive to speaking to an automated voice system.


IVR systems designed to improve medication compliance must address key technical and performance issues and target those individuals with reported memory difficulties or complex medication regimens in order to improve the utility of the system. Future research should also identify characteristics of medication users who are more likely to be receptive to IVR technology.