Some sing. Some beep. Some call via telephone while others glow red and green like a stoplight. But no matter their means of communication, the new smart pillboxes all have the same goal: getting patients to take their medications on time, every time.
The technology features wired pill dispensers that monitor whether patients adhere to their medication schedule by registering when they open the bottle. If they miss a scheduled dosage, the dispenser sends a message to a remote unit or call center, which in turn sends a reminder to the patient in the form of a nearby glowing orb, beep, preprogrammed song or phone call from a monitoring center.
Smart pillboxes have been slowly making their way onto the market over the past couple of years, but the newest versions offer a ramped-up array of high-tech health monitoring services that do everything from telling patients using several medications which and how many pills to take to giving special dosing instructions, monitoring blood sugar levels and keeping track of ongoing side effects that could indicate the need for medical intervention.
It can also record adherence information and send it to whomever the patient wants to monitor their compliance, says Bruce Kehr, a physician who is chairman and chief executive officer of InforMedix, maker of the Med-eMonitor smart pillbox. The Med-eMonitor, Kehr says, is a portable unit about the size of a videocassette that features multiple pill compartments, a digital screen display for relaying messages to the patient and several buttons that allow the user to answer questions and communicate with call-center monitors. Patients can also go online to look up their compliance histories and print out reports.
Another version of the smart pillbox technology is being developed and tested through a study at the Boston-based Centers for Connected Health, the research division of Partners HealthCare. Its technology pairs the Ambient Orb (a desktop lamp that glows a certain color depending on the messages its programmed to send) with the SimPill bottle (a pillbox with an attached monitor that reads when the cap is removed).
InforMedix has partnered with ADT WellHealth, which offers remote healthcare monitoring services, and XLHealth, which provides remote clinical support to patients when needed, to pilot test its package of smart pillbox monitoring services in Tennessee. Medicare is picking up the tab for 20,000 seniors with high blood pressure or diabetes to receive and use the units for three years. If its successful (in improving compliance), at the end of the three years, Medicare hopes to offer it to all seniors, says Harry Leider, a physician and chief medical officer for XLHealth.