Electronic Pill Bottle Cap Increases Medication Use, Study Says

Experimental electronic pill bottle caps prompted up to 99 percent of the participants of a study to stay on their medication schedules, says the Center for Connected Health. The pill bottle covers send wireless signals that activate a glowing light, a tune, automated calls, text messages or e-mails to notify patients that it's time to take their medication.

Having trouble remembering to take your pills? According to preliminary results from a study by the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare, wireless electronic pill bottle caps may be able to help.

The telehealth provider announced the results of a study on June 23 that showed a 27 percent increase in medication schedule adherence for those who used a Vitality GlowCap wireless pill bottle cover compared with those in a control group of people not using the electronic cap.

"The purpose of the study is twofold: to assist health care providers in finding strategies that help patients become more adherent to their medications and care plans, and to study the impact of Vitality GlowCaps and services on adherence rates," David Rose, CEO of Vitality, told eWEEK.

"GlowCaps are designed especially for managing chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and depression where daily medications are critical for long-term health," Rose said.

The GlowCap has an embedded computer chip that communicates with a cellular-connected nightlight, which sends the information to Vitality over AT&T's 2G network. The nightlight's low-frequency RF (radio frequency) is activated when the unit is plugged into the wall. Patients can be notified via a glowing light, a tune, automated calls, text messages or e-mails. The reminders can be repeated for up to four doses a day.

Patients suffering from hypertension participated in six-month trials that began in August 2009. The 139 participants taking anti-hypertensive medication were grouped into three categories: a control group that did without the cap and adhered to their medication schedule 71 percent of the time, an intervention group that received reminders from the device and maintained an adherence rate of 98 percent, and an intervention-plus group that had an adherence rate of 99 percent and received these notifications along with a financial reward of up to $90 if they adhered to their medication schedule at least 80 percent of the time.

"The difference between achieving that 71 percent and 98 percent means fewer health care costs, healthier people and they'll spend less of society's money, whether that will be the employer's money or the government's money," Joseph Kvedar, M.D., director of the Center for Connected Health, told eWEEK. "The fact that we can get adherence to 98 percent is very exciting."

Rose noted that even a small increase in adherence using the technology can make a difference. "Pharmaceutical companies and health care providers struggle to increase adherence by just few a percentage points," Rose said. "The 27 percent increase in medication adherence for patients using GlowCaps is a very positive indication that Internet-connected medication packaging and feedback services can increase adherence in the field and reduce some of the costs for health care providers associated with poor adherence."

Based on data the GlowCap sends to Vitality about the patient's pill schedule adherence, progress reports are e-mailed to the patient, family member or primary care physician, or a combination. Patients can also choose to share their results on social networks.

The GlowCap has one possible flaw for biotechnology to solve: It only knows if you open the bottle, not whether you take the pills. Nevertheless, the results of this study show promise for adherence to medication schedules.

"As doctors we have this foolish notion that if we tell you to do something, you're going to do it," Kvedar said. "Just because you write the script doesn't mean the behavior follows."

The Center for Connected Health said it expects final analysis of the study to be available in fall 2010.