There’s no denying the vital importance of modern medicine in effectively treating a patient’s disease or condition. However, all too often there is a disconnect that occurs between a patient and his or her doctor, and this can result in a lack of understand with regards to different aspects of both their condition and treatment.
“Beyond the pill” is a concept in the pharmaceutical industry focused on providing patient-centric services beyond merely distributing medication. Medication non-adherence -- the technical term for patients not taking their meds as prescribed -- is a particularly detrimental problem in our healthcare system, resulting in $300 billion in increased costs, $100 billion in lost revenues, and 125,000 premature deaths each year in the United States alone.
A new way for patients to take their medications
Entrepreneur Josh Stein links this to the fact that pharmaceutical companies have very little insight into how patients use their drugs. “They spend billions of dollars bringing a new drug to market, millions marketing the drug once it is approved, but they don’t have information about who is taking it, when, why they stopped, and what are the different patterns of adherence.”
In 2009 Stein and his team founded AdhereTech, a healthcare startup that utilizes technological solutions to create “simple and effective adherence tools.” The company’s key product is a patented smart pill bottle that alerts patients when it is time to take their medication, as well as tracking their medication adherence and storing the data so it can be used for research purposes. This gives pharmaceutical companies invaluable real-time data on how their product is being used; data that they’ve before never had the ability to access and leverage.
At the moment AdhereTech is primarily working with pharmaceutical manufacturers and specialized medical care teams to track data, but it has also partnered with certain providers in order to give patients free access to the smart pill bottles. Stein stresses that making the product free for patients, allowing them to get better, more targeted care at no extra cost, is a major part of AdhereTech’s business model.
The fact that the AdhereTech pill bottle is so user-friendly is another thing that makes it stand out amongst other adherence tools. Stein explains, “What makes them different than other adherence solutions is that other solutions require patients to do a lot to set up the product, or do a lot in order to use the product each and every day. [With AdhereTech’s smart pill bottle] there is no tech expertise needed from the patient, the product works as soon as it’s outside of the box and there is literally no setup. … You don’t need to use apps, log in, or set anything up, it’s very passive and easy to use for the patient.”
Innovation = technology + intelligence + simplicity
The bottle’s streamlined, simple design only serves to complement its technical abilities. Each smart bottle contains a number of different sensors which are connected and relay data to AdhereTech’s information dashboard --an HIPAA-compliant registered medical device-- that can be accessed by researchers, pharmacies and, of course, the patients. This system analyzes data in real time, comparing what patients are doing to what they should be doing. If a discrepancy is noticed, a number of different interventions, from phone call and text messages, to the bottle lighting up or playing a little song, can be delivered to the patient or provider in order to address the non-adherence.
AdhereTech’s overarching goal in implementing the use of its smart pill bottle is regulatory medication compliance, and they strongly believe that this can best be accomplished by creating a great user experience. For many patients, especially those who’ve been taking medication long-term, doing so can feel like a nuisance as it is. AdhereTech wants their device to be convenient and improve patient care without usage becoming annoying to the user. Stein stresses that the smart bottle must be effective for it to actually drive change in improving patient care.
Requests for AdhereTech’s smart bottles currently come primarily from pharma manufacturers and are most commonly being used for the medication of cancer patients. However the company has expressed that it is open to to working with the right people to get its product into the hands of any patient who could benefit from it.
In the end, the more data collected, the more improvements that can be made. AdhereTech aims to bridge the gap between patients and providers through the use of technology and intelligence, encompassed in a culture of innovation.
Stein describes the AdhereTech approach as “seeing these open spaces where technologies or new products or new approaches can improve things.” He says, “Innovation happens when you are making intelligent decisions to head in this direction and improve whatever they’re trying to do.”
AdhereTech is doing just that: heading in a positive direction to have a true impact on the pharmaceutical industry, from manufacturers, to the patients, and everyone in between.
Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.