Someday, your pill vial might talk, saying such things as, "Take medication with food."
Already, at least three companies make vials that act as electronic watchdogs for noncompliance.
For economic reasons, the vials are typically used only in clinical drug trials.
But IBV Technologies, a 3-year-old Seattle firm, has designed its product for the consumer drug market. Northwest Pharmacy Services of Puyallup, Wash., will begin using the IBV vials in July to improve the compliance of its highest-cost patients. Several other pharmacy-benefit management firms are interested, said George Robertson, IBV president.
At the pharmacy, the $15 IBV vial is programmed to beep when the patient should take medication. When pressed, a button on the vial shuts off the alarm and records time and date.
The patient will return the vial to the pharmacy and receive another with a refill. The pharmacist sets the used vial on a workstation, which transfers data to the existing pharmacy computer system. A yellow or red light on the computer screen means the pharmacist should review the data and counsel the patient about medication use.
For example, further scrutiny might show the patient isn't taking the drug on weekends, maybe because it interacts with alcohol.
The $180-a-year cost of the IBV system compares with an annual $1,000 cost of other vials used in clinical trials. IBV will install its workstations for free, but it charges a $50 annual maintenance fee.
The compliance data also can be sent to health plans' databases. Robertson said he hopes to build a more advanced system that collects patients' diagnoses, as well as prescription information. He also is testing another vial that records and plays medication instructions.
"This is the first product, but it won't be the last," he said.