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Company Creates Digital Pill Box to Improve Medication Compliance

Device reminds patients when doses are missed

A startup company is teaming with Independence Blue Cross and Penn Medicine to launch a clinical trial that will test whether a digital pillbox helps improve patients’ medication adherence, Modern Healthcare reports.

TowerView Health has created a digital pillbox that tracks patients’ medication schedules and alerts the patients and their providers when medication is missed.

According to Modern Healthcare, when clinicians have developed a medications schedule for a patient, the scrips and schedule are sent to a mail-order pharmacy that has partnered with TowerView. The pharmacy splits the medications into the scheduled dosages on a prescription-drug tray. The tray is then labeled with the schedule and sent to the patient, who places the tray into an electronic pillbox, which senses when pills are taken out of each tray compartment.

The pillbox sensors communicate with connected software through a cellular radio when patients have taken their pills and when it’s time to remind them — through a text message, a phone call, or the pillbox lighting up — that they’ve missed a dose. The system also compiles information for providers about the patient's history of missed doses, enabling the provider to follow up with the patient.

Dr. Ron Brooks, senior medical director for clinical services at Independence Blue Cross, said he believes that the pillbox marks an improvement over past medication-adherence technologies. “Most of the [applications] I’ve seen are reminder apps,” which “might remind [patients] to take a medication,” but leave the patients responsible for inputting that they actually took the medications, he said.

However, some experts argue that it is unclear whether technologies can help boost medication adherence. For example, patients may be skipping medications because of adverse effects or other problems. In such cases, improved medication adherence is “ultimately more likely to be achieved not by clever apps and wireless gadgets, but rather by an empathetic physician who understands, listens, and is trusted by [his or her] patients,” according to Dr. David Shaywitz, chief medical officer at DNAnexus, a network for sharing genomic data.

The digital pill box will soon be put to the test in a randomized clinical trial. TowerView and Independence Blue Cross are enrolling 150 diabetic patients who are noncompliant with their medication regimens; half of those participants will receive usual care. The goal is to improve compliance by at least 10% over 6 months.

Sources: iHealthBeat; May 18, 2015; and Modern Healthcare; May 16, 2015.

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