#mHealth for #SecondaryCHDPrevention #EvidenceReview


Coronary heart disease (CHD) causes one in every 7 deaths in the United States and is the leading cause of death worldwide.1,2 People with a history of CHD are at a greater risk of having recurrent non-fatal or fatal myocardial infarction (MI). Between 11% and 45% of people who have had a MI will either have a recurrent event or die of CHD within 5 years, with higher percentages in females, the elderly and African-Americans.1 Secondary prevention of CHD aims to reduce the risk of recurring cardiovascular events in patients with established CHD. Secondary prevention strategies, such as cardiac rehabilitation programs, are emphasized in national and international guidelines as a Class I recommendation, and include management of modifiable risk factors through lifestyle modification and medication adherence. Traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs have been shown to reduce cardiovascular mortality by 26%,3 but are underutilized, with less than 30% of eligible patients participating in these programs.4 Some of the barriers to participation in such programs include competing work and personal commitments to attend the programs in person, long distance to travel, transport limitations, lack of parking, financial cost and lack of reimbursement.5 In the last two decades, with the growing availability of mobile technology devices, mobile health, or mHealth, has emerged as an alternative approach to deliver secondary prevention strategies to a large number of people at a low cost.6

mHealth in Secondary Prevention of CHD

mHealth is defined as the use of mobile and wireless technologies, including mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, wearable devices and smartwatches to support the achievement of health objectives.7 mHealth interventions can be used for a number of health needs, including patient education and monitoring, behavioral change support, and communication between patients and health professionals.8 This article reviews studies that have used mHealth interventions to improve the cardiovascular risk factor profiles of patients with CHD, through both lifestyle modification and medication adherence.

Lifestyle Modification

Lifestyle modification involves adherence to healthy behaviors, including smoking cessation, regular physical activity and a healthy diet. Some studies have investigated interventions using text messages to improve single or multiple healthy behaviors in patients with CHD and have shown promising results. The caveat, however, was that most studies were small, with sample sizes ranging from 64 to 171 patients, and had a short follow-up timeframe (3-6 months). Three studies evaluated the use of text messages, combined with access to a website or phone calls,9-11 to improve physical activity and found significant improvements in the patients' self-reported physical activity, using the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ). Maddison et al., however, did not find a significant improvement in peak oxygen uptake (PVO2), a more objective measure of physical capacity during an exercise test.10 Another study found that using text messages and phone calls to encourage smoking cessation significantly improved the patients' quitting rates, demonstrated by reduced levels of cotinine in the patients' urine samples (smoking rate: intervention 53.3% vs. control 100%; p value not provided).12 Three further studies used text messages to improve multiple healthy behaviors simultaneously. The TEXT ME (Tobacco, Exercise and Diet Messages) study by Chow et al. was the biggest study with 710 patients who were randomized to receive either usual care or usual care in addition to four text messages per week to motivate regular physical activity, a healthy diet and smoking cessation.13 The authors found a significant improvement in LDL cholesterol (mean difference -5 mg/dL, 95% CI -9 to 0, p = 0.04), systolic blood pressure (BP; mean difference -7.6 mmHg, 95% CI -9.8 to -5.4, p < 0.001), body mass index (BMI; mean difference -1.3 kg/m2, 95% CI -1.6 to -0.9, p < 0.001), total physical activity (mean difference 345 METS-min/week, 95% CI 195 to 495, p < 0.001) and smoking rates (RR 0.61, 95% CI 0.48 to 0.76, p < 0.001) at 6 months. Another two studies investigated interventions using text-messages combined with access to a website and the use of a pedometer to improve diet, physical activity and smoking cessation. Frederix et al. and Pfaeffli Dale et al. randomized 140 and 123 patients, respectively, to receive either usual care, or the mHealth intervention, in addition to usual care.14,15 At 6 months, neither study found a significant improvement in systolic BP, BMI or LDL cholesterol; however, Frederix et al. found a significant improvement in exercise capacity, measured by PVO2 (PVO2: intervention 24.46 mL/[min*kg], SD 7.57 vs. control 22.15 mL/[min*kg], SD 5.37, p < 0.001) and self-reported physical activity using the IPAQ (p = 0.01).

Another four studies have investigated the role of mobile phones in telemonitoring interventions, where patients were provided devices to regularly measure clinical parameters and a smartphone to transmit the data to researchers. Two of these studies were small feasibility studies, with only six and 25 patients, that concluded that the interventions were feasible.16,17 Another study by Varnfield et al. randomized 120 patients to receive a traditional cardiac rehabilitation (CR) program or a smartphone-based CR program. As part of the smartphone-based CR, the patients received a smartphone, a pedometer, a BP monitor and a weight scale, and were instructed to enter health information on the smartphone daily, including BP, weight, caloric and nutritional information and smoking patterns. In addition, patients received motivational and educational materials via text messages, and audio and video files that were pre-installed into the smartphone. The authors found that the smartphone-based CR program increased program uptake, adherence and completion rates compared to traditional CR at 6 weeks.18 However, there were no significant differences in clinical parameters, self-reported dietary patterns and functional capacity, which was evaluated using the 6-minute walk test. The biggest study evaluating the effects of a telemonitoring intervention on cardiovascular risk factors was conducted by Blasco et al. The authors randomized 203 patients to receive either usual care or a telemonitoring intervention in addition to usual care, in which the patients were required to send information on BP daily, weight weekly and glucose and lipid levels monthly via a mobile phone.19 A cardiologist accessed the information and provided feedback to the patients via text messages. The results showed a significant improvement in the patients' cardiovascular risk profiles with 69.6% of the intervention patients achieving combined treatment goals, including smoking cessation, LDL-cholesterol <100 mg/dL, BP <140/90 mmHg and HbA1c <7%, compared to 50.5% of control patients (RR 1.4, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.7, p = 0.010).

Medication Adherence

mHealth interventions can also be used to improve medication adherence by providing regular reminders to reduce forgetfulness, which is an established, unintentional reason for non-adherence. A recent meta-analysis of 16 trials in adults with chronic disease found that text messaging improved medication adherence (OR 2.11, 95% CI 1.52 – 2.93, p < 0.001).20 Table 1 describes the studies that investigated mHealth interventions to promote medication adherence in a population with CHD, in which five studies used text messages, one used a smartphone app and one study compared these two types of mHealth interventions to phone calls. The findings are encouraging and showed improvements in medication adherence; however, the majority of the studies assessed self-reported adherence, which is subject to bias. In addition, most of these studies were small, with a short-term follow-up.

Another growing area of research is the use of wearable devices and smartwatches as a tool in CHD prevention. One potential use of these novel devices is physical activity monitoring and tracking. In a study by Vogel et al., 25 CHD patients participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program were randomized to use a smart wearable device (Polar Loop) to monitor and track their physical activity or to usual care.21,22 At 12 weeks, patients in the wearable device group achieved a significantly higher maximum power (p < 0.001) and relative performance (p < 0.001) in a maximum capacity cardiac exercise test. Recent studies are now evaluating smartwatches as a tool to analyze heart rhythm. The Apple Watch has been recently shown to be effective in differentiating atrial fibrillation (AF) from normal sinus rhythm. This distinction was shown to be accurately done by analyzing the rhythm using photoplethysmography or the single lead rhythm strip accessory KardiaBand.23,24 In addition to being useful tools for AF screening and stroke prevention, new smartwatches, such as the iBeat,25 may be important tools in prevention of fatal acute coronary events in the near future. Furthermore, smartwatches will probably have a role in blood pressure control when wearable devices, such as the Omron Project Zero 2.0 Concept wireless wrist blood pressure monitor,26 are available in the market. However, at this stage, there is still a lack of research evaluating the impact of these new wearable devices in health outcomes.

Overall, there is limited, yet promising, data that mHealth interventions are effective in promoting lifestyle modification and improving medication adherence in patients with CHD. Further evidence from robust, large randomized clinical trials is needed to confirm these positive results and provide evidence of sustained effects. mHealth remains an emerging area of research with at least another 10 trials registered at ClinicalTrials.gov evaluating either text-messaging or smartphone apps for secondary prevention of CHD.

Table 1: Studies Evaluating mHealth Interventions to Improve Medication Adherence in Patients with Coronary Heart Disease

Author, year, country, duration

Number of participants



6 months

n = 280
Intervention 1 = 95
Intervention 2 = 92
Control = 93

Intervention 1 – Medication reminders and education via SMS
Intervention 2 – Medication reminders via SMS + educational materials via a mobile messaging app
Control – Monthly phone calls

Patients in the intervention groups 1 and 2 achieved better adherence to lipid-lowering drugs, measured by self-report using the 4-item MMAS (scores not provided, p < 0.001)

2 months

n = 62
Intervention = 31
Control = 31

Intervention – Daily SMS reminders for medication-taking
Control – Usual care

Proportions of high-adherent patients assessed by self-report using the 8-item MMAS: Intervention 64.5% vs Control 12.9% (p < 0.001)

3 months

n = 24 (cross-over design)

Intervention – Medication Plan app on an Apple iPad
Control – Paper dairy

Mean adherence score assessed by self-report using the A14-scale Intervention 53.96 (SD 2.01) vs Control 52.60 (SD 2.49) (p = 0.02)

12 months

n = 34
Intervention = 17
Control = 17

Intervention – Daily SMS reminders for medication-taking
Control – Usual care

Mean PDC assessed by self-report using a logbook: Intervention 94% vs Control 80% (Mean difference 14%, 95% CI 7% – 21%, p < 0.001)

United States
1 month

n = 90
Intervention 1 = 30
Intervention 2 = 30
Control = 30

Intervention 1 – SMS reminders twice a day + educational SMS 3-times a week
Intervention 2 – Educational SMS 3-times a week
Control – Usual care

Percentage of doses taken assessed by MEMS for: 1- Anti-platelets – Intervention 1 93.7% vs. Intervention 2 95.8% vs Control 79.1%, (p 0.03), and 2 – Statins – Intervention 1 92.4% vs Intervention 2 90.1% vs. Control 83.3%, (p 0.28)

Pfaeffli Dale14
New Zealand
6 months

n = 123
Intervention = 61
Control = 62

Intervention – Daily SMS for first 12 weeks and 5 SMS per week for last 12 weeks + website access + pedometer
Control – Usual care

Mean medication adherence score assessed by self-report using the 8-item MMAS: Intervention 7.3 (SD 0.9) vs. Control 6.8 (SD 1.2) (Mean difference 0.58, 95% CI 0.19 – 0.97, p 0.004)

1 month

n = 521
Intervention = 262
Control = 259

Intervention – Daily SMS reminders for medication-taking
Control – Usual care

Proportion of patients non-adherent to aspirin, measured by platelet testing: Intervention 5.2% vs Control 11.2% (p = 0.01)

CI, confidence interval; MMAS, Morisky Medication Adherence Scale; MEMS, Medication electronic monitoring system; PDC, proportion of days covered; SD, standard deviation; SMS, short message service

mHealth for Secondary Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide.
  • Survivors of a myocardial infarction are at great risk of recurrent events.
  • Secondary prevention aims to reduce the risk of recurrence of cardiovascular events in patients with established CHD.
  • mHealth has emerged as an alternative approach to traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs, which are underutilized, to deliver secondary prevention strategies in the last two of decades.
  • mHealth is defined as the use of mobile and wireless technologies, including mobile phones, smartphones and tablets, to support the achievement of health objectives.
  • This article reviews studies that used mHealth interventions to improve cardiovascular risk factor profile in patients with CHD, through both lifestyle modification and medication adherence.

mHealth for Lifestyle Modification

  • Some studies investigated text-messaging to improve healthy behaviors, including smoking cessation, regular physical activity and a healthy diet.
  • Most studies were small with a short follow-up (3-6 months) and aimed to improve only one healthy behavior, including:
    • Three studies that showed significant improvements in self-reported physical activity.
    • One study that showed a significant reduction in smoking rates.
  • Another three studies aimed to improve multiple healthy behaviors, although only one study showed significant improvements in all risk factors, including LDL-cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, physical activity levels and smoking rates.
  • Another four studies evaluated tele-monitoring interventions using mobile phones, of which one showed higher cardiac rehabilitation uptake, adherence and completion rates and another showed a significant improvement in cardiovascular risk profile.

mHealth for Medication Adherence

  • Some studies also investigated mHealth interventions to improve medication adherence.
  • Five studies compared text messaging interventions to usual care.
  • One study compared an intervention using a app to a paper dairy.
  • One study compared two mHealth interventions (1- text messages only vs. 2- text messages plus a messaging app) to phone calls.
  • These studies were also relatively small (sample sizes 24-521 patients) with follow-up varying from 1 to 12 months.
  • All studies reported improvements in medication adherence; however, the majority of them assessed self-reported adherence, which may by subject to bias.


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Clinical Topics: Diabetes and Cardiometabolic Disease, Dyslipidemia, Prevention, Lipid Metabolism, Nonstatins, Exercise

Keywords: Primary Prevention, Secondary Prevention, Text Messaging, Social Media, Cotinine, Tobacco Use, Body Mass Index, Cholesterol, LDL, Medication Adherence, Cardiac Rehabilitation, Hemoglobin A, Glycosylated, Smoking Cessation, Risk Factors, Feasibility Studies, Blood Pressure, Glucose, Follow-Up Studies, Actigraphy, Cardiovascular Diseases, Cellular Phone, Health Behavior, Telemedicine, Coronary Disease, Myocardial Infarction, Exercise, Chronic Disease

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