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Technology Can Help Make Medication Management Smarter

Medication non-adherence – it’s serious. This medication non-adherence (not filling prescriptions or missing dosages) is a major health issue – resulting in 10% of hospitalizations, 125,000 deaths, and costing the healthcare system up to $300 billion/year.  Consider that 1 in 5 Medicare patients are re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days after discharge – half of them because of medication non-adherence. In a study by Walgreens, researchers found that every 1% improvement in adherence saves about $50 in healthcare spending.

My cousin took meds from as many 20 different bottles. It was nerve wracking watching her pick up a bottle and study the label before taking a pill.  It was clear that this was a complex regimen required for her multiple health issues. Fortunately, she was alert enough to be careful to avoid a mistake. Others may not be so diligent. Among individuals with high blood pressure, 89,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year with appropriate medication treatment – the reasons?  1 in 2 people missed a dose; 1 in 3 forgot if they took the med; 1 in 4 did not get the refill in time.

First, a simple app solution can help. Setting a calendar entry (no app required) or downloading a medication reminder app can help users avoid missing their medication. Free apps, like Pill Reminder (iPhone) and PillsOnTime (Android) also track missed doses. Tracker by Medisafe (iPhone and Android), not only reminds you when it’s time for a refill but enables you to track vitals like blood pressure. Davis’ Drug Guide (iPhone) even contains detailed drug information for patients who have questions about a drug, the possible side effects, or its interactions with other medications.

Next, medication dispensing pre-packaged containers can help with complex regimens. For some individuals, a plastic 7-day pill container provides enough structure. But if problems occur as a result of not taking doses, technology-enabled containers are designed to help prevent both missing a dose or taking the wrong pill. Units are easily connected to the Internet for communication to caregivers about whether the unit was opened at the right time. They include PillPack (recently acquired by Amazon) which delivers the packaged medication doses and has an accompanying app to track information about them.  Then there is MedMinder, an automated dispensing box that can be preloaded by the pharmacy.  PillPack and MedMinder charge just the co-pay medication cost. Finally, consider Philips’ Automated Medication Dispensing Service – in which a caregiver loads up to 40 days of doses which are dispensed in small cups per dose at a cost of $59.95 per month.

A special case, diabetes medication non-adherence is a critical health problem.  Today, the obesity rate for adults 60 and over has risen to 41%. It is estimated that 30% of the overweight adults have diabetes – and most diabetics are overweight. Further, as many as 50% of them do not take adequate medication to manage their blood sugar, accounting for $24.6 billion in avoidable healthcare costs. Although some would say that Americans take too many pills, for many, medication is critical to health and wellbeing—especially diabetics.  And for the 15% of the population that take five or more pills per day, being diligent about taking their medication in conjunction with the right diet, can be especially difficult. Apps for monitoring diet and blood sugar include Glucose Buddy, MySugr, DiabetesConnect, and SugarSense.


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