No, I Don’t Need to Write it Down, I’ll Remember

by Site Author

Last week, I was absentminded and, as a result, nearly drove my family into bankruptcy.

It had to do with our grill. I grilled fish and vegetables for dinner, but once the food was done, I forgot to turn off the grill.

When a grill is connected to a propane tank, a mistake like that only empties the tank. But our grill is connected to a gas line, so I wasted hundreds of dollars before I finally remembered to turn off the grill.

Once I realized my mistake, I switched off the grill and cursed myself. My resolution now: to set a kitchen timer every time I turn the grill on.

The problem is that, in the moment, setting a reminder seems unnecessary. I just tell myself “Why set a reminder? I’ll remember.” But by the time I do remember, I’ll have burned off enough gas to cook a herd of buffalo.

People forget little things all the time: to shut off the grill, to lock the door, to pick up cream at the grocery store. And frighteningly, people also forget important things, things that are a matter of life and death. Ask any physician about their patients’ forgetfulness, and they’ll tell you about patients who need to take medications to stay alive, and yet who inexplicably forget to take those meds.

As a result, physicians have started exploring technologies that remind patients to take their meds. There are now dozens of medical trials of software that texts patients whenever they need to take their pills.

A good example is a recent study by a team of Pakistani medical researchers. The researchers took 200 patients at risk of stroke, and randomly assigned them to two groups. One group got only a stern discussion with their physician about the importance of taking their pills each day. The second group got SMS text reminders whenever they were supposed to take such medications.


Now, to be clear, these were important medications. It’s one thing to forget to pick up cream at the grocery store. It’s another thing altogether to forget to take the pills you’ve been prescribed, pills that keep you from having a stroke. At first pass, you might think everyone would remember to take pills that important. And yet, one in four patients forgets to take their medications.

The researchers found that SMS text reminders improved how closely the patients stuck to their prescriptions by ten percent. The patients who got the reminders ended up with lower blood pressure and were less likely to end up suffering a stroke.

And if people need reminders for life-saving medications, surely they need reminders to turn off the grill. Fortunately, the technology is now in our pockets. There are iPhone apps that make it easy to set persistent reminders. The trick, of course, is to be sufficiently self-aware to realize that you need the app.