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Electronic pill bottles might help medication adherence

The bottles send audio and visual alerts when it's time to take medicine. A study showed nearly 100% patient compliance when the devices are used.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted July 7, 2010

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Pill bottles that electronically alert patients to take their medications show promise for increasing compliance, according to research from the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners Healthcare in Boston.

A randomized controlled study of patients who used electronic pill bottles wirelessly connected to the Internet found a 27 percentage point higher rate of medication compliance compared with patients who didn't use the electronic bottles.

The bottles, called GlowCaps and produced by Cambridge, Mass.-based Vitality, alert patients with light and sound when it's time to take their medicine. The bottles also generate missed-dose reminder phone calls and refill reminders. Automated progress reports also are sent to the patients' physicians, family or caregivers.

For the study, 139 patients on antihypertensive medication were enrolled in a six-month program. They were divided into three groups: a control group that did not receive any communication; an intervention group that received the GlowCaps bottles and reminders; and an intervention-plus group that received the GlowCaps and reminders, plus a financial incentive for exceeding a monthly adherence goal of 80%.

Three months into the study, the control group had an adherence rate of 71%. The intervention and intervention-plus groups had adherence rates of 98% and 99%, respectively.

The study is ongoing, and final analyses will investigate blood pressure control and patient satisfaction. Those results are expected in the fall.

"As health care providers, we must find strategies that help patients become more adherent to their medications and care plans," said Alice Watson, MD, MPH, corporate manager of research and program evaluation at the Center for Connected Health, in a prepared statement. "We are extremely encouraged by these interim results." The center has no financial stake in Vitality.

Because nonadherence to prescribed medications has been estimated to cost the U.S. health care system $300 billion annually, the issue has been the focus of many studies and product innovations in recent years.

Previous studies showed promise in nontechnical methods, such as shared-decision making and financial incentives for medication adherence. Technical solutions, such as smart pills that send messages to physicians when swallowed, also are being tested.

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