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Over the last century, new technologies have disrupted traditional industries at a faster pace than ever before. Now, it’s health care’s turn. Entrepreneurs from across the U.S. are coming up with solutions to address a huge problem in medicine: making it easier for patients to keep track of their medications and take them properly.
A study by the National Community Pharmacists Association found that patients who fail to take their medication routinely and/or on time threaten not only their own health, but also cost the health care system an estimated $290 billion every year due to health complications. The problem is likely to grow, as the World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, about 157 million Americans will have one chronic condition requiring medication therapy.
Here are two of the entrepreneurs who have come up with out-of-the-box ways to address the problem.
That’s One Smart Bottle
Josh Stein, cofounder of New York-based AdhereTech, is one of several startups that is changing the health care field, via smart bottles that track medicinal pills and fluid. Customers simply pour their medication into the bottle which records the original amount, and the platform alerts them if they miss a dose or take an incorrect amount of medication.
“Medication non-adherence, the technical term for patients not taking their meds at the right time, is probably the biggest health problem in the U.S.,” Stein said in an interview.
Stein, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, says his company’s high-tech bottle has many of the same features found in a cell phone, such as LTE capabilities, circuit boards and sensors. The bottle gathers information about the amount of liquid inside it and streams the data to the company, which analyzes it and delivers it to patients. “No mater where it goes on the planet, it sends data to our services to tell us if patients are not taking their meds,” Stein explained. “If the system notices discrepancies, it can play a song to remind participants, or send automated text messages or phone calls.”
So far the device is only offered through a certain number of health partners, including Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington and several other pharmaceutical companies across the U.S.
What differentiates AdhereTech from other products on the market is the fact that it was designed to fit into a consumer’s lifestyle with little fuss. The bottle, which is manufactured in the United States, was designed for everyone ranging from the young and tech-savvy to older generations who require an easy-to-use design.
“We created something that literally requires the patient to do nothing new to use it and has no set up. It’s like giving a patient a cell phone that’s already on,” he says. In fact, some patients in their 80s use the bottle, but don’t have a smartphone.
Improving medical outcomes may be in Stein’s genes: His father is a doctor, and his mother is an occupational therapist. That said, he believes that disruption is going to continue. He also sees more disruption like what his company has created becoming the norm moving forward everywhere, not just in health care. “As technology becomes cheaper, you’ll see more companies [like his] popping up in every industry,” he says. “Without a doubt it’s already had an effect on health care.”
All-in-One Medication App
Medisafe, an app that helps customers find cheaper prescription drugs and manage their treatment regimens, has reimagined how people interact with their medication by providing an online interface that puts all the data they need in one place. Customers who download the free app from either iTunes or the Google app store are presented with their own feed (similar to Facebook) that shows time schedules, medicine information and where certain medicines are sold. The company provides its price comparison service by partnering with yet another startup called GoodRX, which compares prescription drug prices.
The startup’s price tool lets users compare drug costs from 60,000 pharmacies across the U.S. and includes a variety of discount coupons. Someone using the platform can see what local stores in his or her area charge for medication without leaving the house. If there are any discounts available for the prescription, users simply need to print, email or text it to themselves and present it to their pharmacist to save money.
The tool is partly an acknowledgment that price often plays an important part in a person’s overall health, yet doctors rarely discuss the price of medications with patients. Indeed, the Journal of the American Medical Association recently published a study that found participants with chronic conditions were less likely to take medication regularly when copayments increased.
“Costs are being shifted [to consumers] through higher co-pay plans, higher deductible plans, higher premiums – (patients) are making decisions about how to direct those dollars more and more,” says Jon Michaeli, the EVP of Marketing & Business Development for Medisafe. “The patients are really in the driver’s seat of their health care if they leverage the value of all of these tools, including coupons.”
The company, which has approximately 2.5 million registered users, says it made a conscious effort to have the app’s virtual tracking system mimic real life by creating an interface in the app that looks like a virtual pillbox.
What the future of healthcare looks like is unknowable, but further disruption seems like a given. “You have technology capabilities that you didn’t have years ago: cloud infrastructure and levels of security for HIPPA compliance,” Michaeli explained. “The opportunity is now ripe for innovation. Now is the time.”