Reinventing the Pillbox: IoT Solutions for Medical Adherence

The lack of patient adherence to their prescribed medical regimen in the United States is an overlooked but prevalent problem, and IoT solutions could play an important role in changing this reality.

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Illustration: © IoT For All

A growing number of people are taking pills every day with 3.8 billion prescriptions written annually in the United States. To experience the full benefits of a medication, it’s necessary to take the specified dose at the recommended time and frequency. This is especially pertinent for individuals with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017 predicts that around 50 percent of chronic patients are not medically adherent. This lack of medication adherence can lead to devastating health outcomes and costly hospital visits. In the United States, it’s estimated that medical non-adherence is responsible for around 10 percent of all hospitalizations, causes 125,000 deaths and costs the healthcare system between $100 and $289 billion each year. While these statistics are jarring, recent awareness raised around this issue is a step in the right direction.

On the surface, the problem of medical non-adherence seems straightforward, yet the underlying causes are various and nuanced, particularly for patients with a chronic illness that have complex medication regimens. Researchers have looked into the causes of medical non-adherence and have arrived at a number of conclusions. In many cases, non-adherence is unintentional and is due to forgetfulness or a misunderstanding of the prescribed dosage and schedule. Intentional nonadherence is where things become more complicated. A person’s conscious decision to skip a dose can stem from an inability to pay, experienced side effects, beliefs about their disease, expectations for improvement or a general lack of a support system that holds them accountable.

Studies show that an effective way to counteract both these intentional and unintentional barriers is to increase user engagement. This can be done by empowering individuals to better understand the benefits of their treatment regimen and by establishing a connected medical support network. Companies have turned to IoT to make medication routines as easy and convenient as possible.

Connected Pill Bottles

AdhereTech is a simple and seamless smart pill bottle that acts as a safety net for patients. It looks and is used like a normal pill bottle and requires zero setup. Each time an individual interacts with the pill bottle, sensors send two pieces of data to the cloud: a timestamp of when the cap was opened and closed as well as a measurement of how much medication was taken. The server then compares this data to the patient’s recommended schedule.

The pill bottle glows blue when a patient is scheduled to take a medication. Once a dosage window passes, the pill bottle glows red and sends a reminder via text message, email or automated phone call. AdhereTech is conscious of intentional nonadherence and prompts users to input why they missed a dose. For instance, if a cancer patient records that they skipped their medication due to side effects of intense nausea, the individual can get an anti-nausea medication recommendation and their support network can be notified to follow up. Since the pill bottle uses a cellular network, it functions no matter where a patient goes.

Image Credit: AdhereTech

Connected Pill Dispensers

There are a variety of connected medication dispensers that have recently hit the market, each with a host of features. These machines dispense medication at a precise time and many require some form of authentication, like a PIN or password to dispense. Unlike traditional pill boxes and bottles, these devices are built to hold a larger capacity of medication which reduces the frequency of refills. These dispensers are designed for in-home use and are an effective solution for people in senior residences and assisted living facilities.

Karie is a cellular connected pill dispenser that aims to “make medication the easiest part of your day.” The device glows and produces a chime when it’s time for a user to take a medication. If a dose is missed, family members or caregivers can be notified. The device can hold up to a 1-month supply of medication and is filled with prepacked pill pouches.

Image Credit: Karie

Pillo’s in-home medication manager is by far the most adorable pill dispenser on the market. Its anthropomorphic design makes the device feel like a companion, which can make a difference in improving people’s relationship with medication. The device delivers dose reminders and sends alerts when a user misses a dose or has an upcoming medical appointment. The dispenser tracks medication loading and dispensing which is helpful information for healthcare professionals. Pillo is voice activated and allows a user to video chat with their caregiver.

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Image Credit: Pillo

Ingestibles

Proteus Discover takes connectivity one step further with their digital medicine solution. With Proteus Discover, an individual takes their medicine with a tiny ingestible sensor which, upon reaching the stomach, transmits a signal to a wearable sensor patch. Adherence information is sent to a patient portal where physicians can analyze the data to make more informed treatment decisions. While their solution pushes the boundaries of IoT in healthcare, the invasive nature of their solution is cause for scrutiny.

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Image Credit: Proteus Discover

As the United States’ population ages, a greater number of individuals will be taking regular doses of medication. Connected pill bottles and dispensers have the potential to facilitate medical adherence by providing helpful reminders and keeping a user’s support network informed.