Molina Healthcare Inc., a provider of managed health care services, is rolling out a text message medication reminder program for its members. Members opting into the program will receive reminders at least once a day on their mobile phone. Members can choose the frequency with which they receive a reminder, such as when they awake in the morning, then 10 minutes before they are scheduled to take their medication later in the day.

Molina, which enrolled 500 members during the pilot stage, expects the program to improve adherence to medication schedules among its members and in turn reduce the risk of avoidable illness that can lead to emergency room visits and hospitalization. Avoidable visits to the emergency room increase the cost of healthcare by billions of dollars annually, according to a study from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

Many of Molina’s members suffer from chronic conditions that can be managed with medication—such as diabetes—and take medication several times a day. Improper adherence to medication schedules—such as failing to take a medication or taking incorrect doses—can lead to health issues that require an emergency room visit, such as a heart attack, stroke or seizure, says Molina chief innovation officer Dr. Martha Molina Bernadett.

A patient taking blood thinners too infrequently, for example, is at higher risk of a blood clot that can cause a stroke. Conversely, taking blood thinners more often than prescribed can lead to excessive bleeding from minor cuts that can imperil the patient’s health. Managing a chronic condition with medication is more cost effective than doing so through an emergency room visit, says Bernadett.

“That’s the return on investment from our medication reminder program,” Bernadett says.

Molina provides managed health care services through Medicaid and Medicare and state insurance marketplaces to 4.2 million members in 12 states and Puerto Rico. The company was founded in 1980 by Dr. C. David Molina as a provider organization serving low-income families in Southern California.

As part of the medication reminder program, Molina will send weekly summaries to members detailing adherence to their medication schedule such as when they receive a 95% adherence rate. To track adherence rates, members are requested to reply to medication reminders by pressing the number 1 on their mobile phone’s keypad to acknowledge they have taken their medication. When adherence falls below 20%, Molina will reach out to the member to learn why adherence is so low and find a solution for increasing it.

“Often, we find that members not taking their medications as scheduled have a disability, mobility or other issues that create challenges in taking their medications,” Bernadett says.

One member, for example, told Molina she could not afford food if she paid for her medication. Molina referred the member to a social worker that put the member in touch with a local food pantry. The solution significantly boosted the member’s adherence to her medication schedule, says Molina director of pharmacy Jennifer Strohecker.

Once a member opts into the reminder program, he is sent a confirmation text to which he is asked to reply to make certain he can communicate by text message. To enroll in the program, a member needs a mobile phone and an unlimited text messaging plan. Molina also notifies each member’s primary care physician when the member has enrolled in the medication program.

Molina is offering its medication reminder program through text messaging platform provider CareSpeak Communications Inc. CareSpeak sends all text messages to Molina members at the designated times and forwards member responses to Molina for its weekly member summaries.

In regard to the cost of the program Molina would only say it has allocated “a single digital dollar amount per member month.”