By Gary M. Kaye, Chief Content Officer Tech50+ (www.tech50plus.com)
Taking pills is not fun. And as we age, chances are that we’ll have to take more pills more often. Not only is that a problem for those who need the medications, but also for those who take care of them. And it’s a 300 billion dollar problem for the health care system. That’s $300,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros and represents a lot of untaken pills, ungiven injections, and un-spritzed sprays. The consequences of this staggering level of non-adherence are huge. Unnecessary hospitalizations. Unnecessary provider visits. Unnecessary strain on family and caregivers. And in some cases, unnecessary deaths. So it’s no wonder the health care system has been struggling for years to find ways to improve compliance while reducing costs. And now a number of companies are using technology to provide a solution.
One solution is a system called PillDrill. This may be the most comprehensive consumer friendly system we’ve seen, but it has a lot of moving parts and requires a serious time and effort commitment to set it up.
There are several parts to the PillDrill system. First, is a Wi-Fi-enabled Hub. The Hub provides reminders of when to take your meds and is also the place where you scan your pill bottles or your pill pods. Then there are pill strips which hold the pods with your meds. The base PillDrill comes with two seven-day strips, one for morning meds, the other for evening meds. The strips snap together, and you can add as many strips as you’d like to accommodate additional dosage times. When you take your allotted meds from a pod, you scan it over the hub, where the RFID enabled pod triggers a notice via the PillDrill smartphone app to your caregiver or loved one that you took your meds. Similarly, if you miss a dose or take one outside the specified time window, an alarm will beep and a notice will go out as well.
You don’t need to put your pills in pods, though I find them more convenient than carrying around a pile of pill bottles. But if that’s your preference, you can tag each bottle and enter its contents in the PillDrill app (or online). Then when you swipe the bottle with the RFID tag, it acknowledges that you’ve taken the dose. Unlike other systems that can only deal with pills, the PillDrill comes with tags that will attach to other devices such as an injection pen or a spray bottle.
There’s also a cute little “mood cube” that you can swipe on the hub so your caregiver or loved one knows how you are feeling.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the system is that it is not as mobile friendly as it might be. It works great for those who are basically home-bound, but there are some issues when you take it on the road. The pill pods were designed to be easy to open and close, but that makes them a little too easy to open when you are traveling. The pill strips can be secured with an elastic strap, but those are not as sturdy as I’d like. PillDrill is working to correct these and other issues. They are promising a new and sturdier travel strap. They are also working on a travel case that will allow you to easily and securely carry four pods with you for the day (exactly the number I need). You can free yourself from needing the Hub when you travel by scanning your pill bottle or pill pods directly to your (Android) smartphone. Because of the way Apple deals with Near Field Communications (NFC), it may be a while before PillDrill has a mobile iOS solution.
For not-so-tech-savvy users, the app is completely optional — all they have to do is wait for reminders from the Hub and scan when they take a dose.
For tech-savvy users, the app and Hub can be used interchangeably. When you’re at home, get reminders through the Hub and log doses by scanning. But when you’re out and about, you can get reminders on your phone and log doses directly through the PillDrill app. It works either way, depending on your lifestyle and comfort with technology.
There are other pill dispensing systems on the market. The Philips Lifeline Medication Dispensing System costs almost $60 a month. After looking at a number of systems, we have yet to find any others that can cope with injection pens, spray bottles, or other devices. That reason alone gives the PillDrill an advantage. Once I did my homework and entered all my meds in the app, I’ve found it easy to use. It is also well on its way to becoming even more mobile friendly for those of us who need to get our meds together and take them on the road.