Kids' not taking meds? Send a text message

BY Michael Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 6:10 p.m. MDT

Q: I can't get my 13-year son old to remember to take his asthma medication or use his inhaler like he should. It makes me so afraid for him! What can I do?

— Debby D., Detroit

A: That's a million-dollar question — and one that frustrates moms and dads, docs and researchers: Almost half of kids (and adults, too) who need regular dosing of inhaled corticosteroids don't take what they need 25 percent of the time or more.

The great news is: We've got answers! Turns out that most teens actually enjoy getting reminders about their asthma self-care if they're delivered as digital taps on the shoulder — TCOY! (Take Care Of Yourself, if you didn't know.) As Alicia Keys and Beyonce croon in "Put It in a Love Song," "Just text me on my cell phone!"

One recent study found that 93 percent of teens who were getting text messages about their medication said it changed — for the better — how they handled their asthma. Automated "robo" calls from pharmacists and doctors with reminders about taking medications and other health-related tips also work better than anything we've used before. Many of these services deliver a patient-education text, and it turns out that kids like to get that, too.

But the very best way to improve your son's asthma control is to help him make his own wake-up messages that he programs into his cell phone. (Encourage kids 15 and younger to program their iPod; cell phones aren't great for the developing brain.) Your son can record the reminders, mix in music, set the alarm to deliver them and presto change-o!, you've got a kid who's tuned in to his own asthma control. When kids control the timing and content of their own reminders, they feel independent — and that lets you relax. The ADEPT study that looked at the benefits of using technology to increase teens' use of their asthma medicine found peer support and musical cues increase adherence to the asthma control routine from 40 percent to 70 percent — not perfect, but a whole lot better.

One more tip, Mom: You can improve your own asthma-control habits, too. Check out your HMO's or pharmacy's automatic call system that reminds you to pick up your son's asthma prescriptions. You'll breathe a lot easier!

Q: I'm supposed to have a blood test for my cholesterol, but I really hate needles. I hear there's a saliva test for the same thing. Is that true?

— Fred W., Birmingham, Ala.

A: You're talking about the very latest innovation in monitoring your health, and one we can't wait to see in widespread use. Keeping tabs on "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and other markers for heart disease, such as triglycerides, means you can keep them low enough to avoid all the heart-stopping, brain-dulling damage they can do. But while there's a pharmaceutical company that has a patent on a saliva cholesterol test, it's not yet generally available.

Why is spit so full of information? Saliva contains proteins, enzymes, hormones and DNA. That's why the cholesterol spit-test won't be the only one you'll see in the next few years. One of the most exciting saliva tests in development is a reliable screening for the inflammation marker called C-reactive protein, or CRP. CRP can indicate heart disease — or an impending heart attack — and tracking changing levels can let doctors and patients check on how well cardio treatments are working. That can speed recovery after a heart attack or other cardiac problems. And eventually, many important health risk factors — including stress; exposure to harmful chemicals in the air, water or food; a person's history of infectious disease; and of course oral health — may be measured this way.

Because saliva testing is so easy, fast, safe and cost-effective, maybe the spittoon will make a comeback as a medical device!

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.

© Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.

Dist. by King Features Syndicate Inc.

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