Medication nonadherence is one of the leading problems in our healthcare system accounting for $100 to $300 billion in costs annually or up to 10% of US healthcare costs. While missing a dose here and there might not seem like a big deal its affects are compounded into poor patient outcomes, increased healthcare utilization, and higher cost.
A lot of the problem stems from human error coming from both patients and healthcare providers, and human error is a difficult thing to change. Patient adherence technology is an attempt to solve this problem, by making it easier to track medication adherence and keep patients on schedule using more advanced technology such as electronic pill dispensers and mobile health applications.
Medication Log Sheet
The precursor to patient adherence technology is a medication log sheet which acts as a drug tracker for patients. A medication log sheet that is updated regularly can help keep a patient from missing medications reducing adverse drug events, saving money, and preventing harm to the patient. Daily medication log sheets have been utilized by patients in their homes or by nurses and caregivers in bigger medical facilities for a long time as a medication adherence tool.
You can see some examples of these here:
Medication Log Template – for keeping track of past and current medication
Daily Medication Log Sheet – for keeping track of daily adherence to medication
Electronic Daily Medication Log – mobile and web app for keeping a dose calendar and daily medication log using a smartphone
New Trends In Patient Adherence Technology
New patient adherence technology for medications is very similar to the concept of a daily log sheet for medications but using advances in technology to automate the process. There are two basic methods of doing this: electronic pill dispensing or medication intake tracking mobile applications. These methods try to automate some or all of the process of keeping track of medications similar to how a mobile banking application can help automate balancing a checkbook. By having digital information updated for every event, these technologies make it lot easier to compile a comprehensive and accurate log with a fraction of the work compared to doing it by hand with paper. Below we’ll take a look at these two approaches and how new drug adherence companies are tackling them to improve patient care.
Electronic Pill Dispensing
Electronic pill dispensing is making improvements on a simple yet ingenious tool many already use to manage their medication adherence, a pill organizer such as this one.
These are often recommended to seniors, people with chronic illnesses, or anybody that is prescribed several medications simaultenously. While a pill organizer might not seem like a big deal, a simple tool such as this can greatly improve patient adherence to their medication, as well as reducing missed doses, adverse drug events, and patient stress about their conditions. A pill organizer however, doesn’t quite replace a medication log sheet because there are no records kept and therefore if an error does occur it can be difficult to determine the root cause, but it does do a good job for home use.
An electronic pill dispenser such as this one however, takes a pill organizer to the next level to enable alerts and reminders to be built in. Some advanced models even include a digital log when medications are dispensed out of it. This takes the simplicity of a pill organizer but adds additional layers of function that can be extremely useful for at home and medical settings. These advanced devices are already being recommended to people having trouble keeping track of their medications, and will likely begin replacing the standard pill organizers we’ve been using for decades.
Mobile Health Applications
Mobile health applications are also becoming increasingly popular as a form of patient adherence technology. This often comes in the form of a medication reminder that can be set similar to any other phone alert such as an alarm, text, or in app notification. These alerts can be customized to fit even complex drug intake schedules and leave a constant source of organization in the drug schedule. Such applications provide patients with encouragement and engagement in their medication adherence and often provide additional tools such as visuals of the medications, pill identifiers, drug interaction checkers, and many more depending on their use cases.
When a medication reminder alert goes off, patients or caretakers can mark down the intake for that time as taken; or reschedule a reminder if the time isn’t convenient. Using this method isn’t quite as automatic a well-designed electronic pill organizer but it leaves more room for customization and added functionality (and some electronic pill organizers can digitally connect to mobile applications if needed). When properly used a drug tracker application can also provide that medication log healthcare professionals will find useful in routine checkups or emergency cases.
Patient adherence technology is a tricky subject. It’s not really plausible to make a robot that will open a patients mouth and drop a pill in on command (although a version of this does make sense for IV medications). We are all aware of those sci-fi novels from the future where every task is automated and the lines between utopia and dystopia blurr. Despite this, non-adherence can be a big problem (especially for those who are already sick) and should be tackled head on in clever ways. Utilizing electronic pill dispensers and mobile health applications are two simple and cost effective ways to improve on the current solutions of medication log sheets, and create and auditable log of medication intake.