Forget to Take Medicine? An IDEO concept for a medicine bottle that would show spots like a rotting banana when past expiration date.

May 20, 2013, 8:07 p.m. ET

Forget to Take Medicine? These Pills Will Tell Your Doctor

Startups Devise Ways to Help Patients Stick to Their Pill-Taking Schedule

By TIMOTHY HAY

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AdhereTech pill bottle. It glows blue during the optimal dosage time and it flashes red when the dosage is missed. An IDEO concept for a medicine bottle that would show spots like a rotting banana when past expiration date.

Startups are coming up with new technologies, such as “digital pills,” aimed at getting people to take medicine only as directed. Timothy Hay joins The News Hub. Photo: AdhereTech. Startup companies are coming up with new technologies aimed at getting people to take medicine only as directed. Taking medication haphazardly—skipping doses, lapsing between refills or taking pills beyond their expiration date—has been linked to health complications and hundreds of millions of wasted dollars for insurers and hospitals. “After six months’ time, only half of people taking prescription medicines are taking them as directed,” said Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer of drug retailer CVS Caremark Corp.CVS -0.77% Health insurers and pharmacy-benefits managers like CVS have long relied on robo-calls, mailers and face-to-face meetings with pharmacists to keep patients on their dosing schedule. Now they are evaluating a range of more cost-effective technologies, from pills and bottles with digital sensors, to data analytics software and social games that offer patients rewards.Insurers and pharmacies are motivated in part by Medicare, which offers financial rewards for proving their members have improved their overall adherence to medication schedules.

They also stand to benefit if their members are healthier. The New England Healthcare Institute estimates that some $290 billion in costs is wasted each year on unnecessary hospital and doctor visits by people who failed to comply with their medication schedule.

CVS is pilot-testing technology from Virginia-based RxAnte Inc., which sells an analytics platform that looks at millions of patients’ claims data and clinical data to identify people at highest risk of failing to comply with doctors’ orders. These patients include people with a spotty track record of adherence, those who take several different medicines or those facing unwanted side effects, Chief Executive Josh Benner said.

“It’s all a targeting game,” Mr. Benner said. “We predict individual behaviors, and suggest interventions.”

Other companies are coming up with ways to help entice, rather than badger, customers. San Francisco-based Mango Health Inc. just released an app that lets users earn points toward prizes—such as gift cards from Target Corp. TGT -0.58%or a charitable donation in the patient’s name—for adhering to their prescription schedules.

Beyond data and apps, startups are working on digitizing the pills and bottles themselves.

Proteus Digital Health Inc. places tiny, digestible sensors inside of pills to get an objective accounting of who is taking what medicine.

The sensors are the size of a grain of sand and are made up of copper, magnesium and silicon, amounts well below a human being’s recommended daily allowance of such minerals, said Andrew Thompson, chief executive of the Redwood City, Calif., company.

The sensor beams data such as when the pill was ingested to a disposable strip worn on the skin like a Band-Aid that sends the data to a mobile app. With patient permission, doctors or loved ones can access the phone app to track compliance.

“There is no radio, no antenna,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s literally powered by you.”

Mr. Thompson said the first digital drugs will be available in 2014 or early 2015.

Proteus, which is backed by Medtronic Inc., MDT +0.10% Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Novartis AG, NOVN.VX -0.62% Kaiser Permanente and venture firms, has licensing and commercialization deals with Otsuka and Novartis, he said.

Mr. Thompson said that sensor-embedded pills are appropriate for older patients, who often take multiple medications, and for sufferers of conditions like tuberculosis, where going off a medication regimen can have disastrous consequences.

Other companies are remaking the medicine bottle. AdhereTech Inc. is developing an automated pill bottle filled with sensors that measure how much medicine is left. The bottle glows blue when it is time to take a dose, and red when the dosage is missed.

The bottle can also beam data to AdhereTech’s servers and send text alerts as reminders.

Even product-design firm IDEO is thinking about ways to boost prescription adherence.

IDEO designers Kuen Chang and Jin Ko have designed a pill bottle that begins to resemble an overripe banana once a medicine is past its expiration date. The bottle is in concept stage and hasn’t been developed.

“It produces a gut reaction,” the husband-and-wife design team said. “Without thinking about it, you just really don’t want to eat that banana.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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