The technologies that made you fall in love with your iPhone or Galaxy are now making their way into pill bottles.
To help patients take their medications on time, AdhereTech is remaking that ubiquitous orange bottle and giving it a high-tech facelift with the addition of lights, speakers, a 45-day-long battery, 3G and LTE capabilities, and sensors that measure humidity and how many pills are left in the bottle.
“We’ve built cellphone technology into the bottle,” said Josh Stein, the CEO of the New York City-based startup. “The bottle [will be] constantly connected to the cloud, just like a cell phone. Patients don’t have to link it to WiFi or Bluetooth. They don’t have to set it up in any way.”
That also means that if patients are treading internet-less territory, their AdhereTech bottle could still remind them they need to take their meds. Even if the connection to 3G or LTE is poor, the bottle should still be able to transmit its bite-sized 1-kilobyte readings to the company servers without a problem, Stein claims. This is important because non-adherence costs the healthcare system billions of dollars annually.
The company is still tweaking the design using a Makerbot 3-D printer and says it’ll have its first working prototypes by the end of April, but the way it’ll work is that every time it’s opened, the bottle will take stock of how many pills it has inside by measuring the capacitance, or stored charge, along its walls. (These sensors never touch the medication.) The technology is based on a patent issued to the University of Alabama, for which AdhereTech has an exclusive license. When a pill is removed, the capacitance reading decreases because there are fewer contact points and less pressure along the bottle’s walls. This is similar to the way your iPhone or Galaxy detects how you’re moving your finger along its touchscreen. That information gets sent to AdhereTech’s servers via a cellular network. The company knows your medication regimen based on information supplied by a pharmacist. If the servers don’t receive a time-stamped capacitance measurement when you’re supposed to take your pill, this will trigger an alarm to remind the patient to take his meds.
“All of our calculations are done service-side,” Stein said. The bottle will just act as a meter that transmits data. Its 32-kilobyte memory isn’t big enough to store what pills it contains or what your medication schedule is, which makes losing this 2-ounce gizmo less scary.
Still, the company will know exactly how many pills or fluid ounces the bottle contains in real time, Stein claims. If it works, this could set AdhereTech’s intelligent pill bottle system apart from other similar technologies already on the market, which only measure if a bottle has been popped open.
The company is building its product so that it’s customizable for each patient, Stein says. If you prefer to get a phone call, text message or email to prompt you to take your pills, you can set it up to do that. If you fancy visual or auditory reminders, the bottle lights up or chimes. And if those notifications don’t do the trick, the system can snitch to your doc or a loved one, who can then check on you.
Down the line, if users want to merge their AdhereTech data with other apps or with their activity, glucose or blood pressure monitors, they’ll be able to thanks to AdhereTech’s open API. “It’s very important to us for patients to own their personal adherence data,” Stein says. “We want to be the pill bottle that plugs into other systems and integrates with all these other apps.” The quantified selfcommunity will only continue to grow in popularity, Stein believes, and he wants AdhereTech to be a part of those movements.
From a business perspective this makes a lot of financial sense. The merging of all these data could provide very nuanced views of why patients skip their meds or how drugs work in different people in real time, a point that’s not lost on Stein. He envisions partnerships with insurance companies, hospitals and clinical researchers based on the “really valuable data that’s not collected anywhere in real time that our bottle can [gather].” That brings up all kinds of data privacy and security concerns, which the company will no doubt need to address as it grows.
Right now, AdhereTech, which has raised $200,000 in seed money, is focused on making sure its technology delivers on its promise. They’ve tested all the components individually and Stein says they’re all working. What they haven’t done is tested the whole system. The company is also in the process of setting up contracts with a cloud service (most likely to be Amazon) and a telecom provider.
Sometime after that, the AdhereTech bottles will be pitted against dumb ones at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Wake Forest University and University of Pennsylvania to see whether AdhereTech’s solution actually increases adherence for a variety of disease conditions. If all goes well, AdhereTech bottles should be available at select pharmacies for specialty drugs for conditions like cancer, HIV, pulmonary hypertension and rheumatoid arthritis. Pharmaceutical or insurance companies would pick up the tab – Stein is still working pricing out – once they hit the market sometime in 2014.
Of course, as it stands right now, AdhereTech can’t guarantee a patient has actually ingested her medication. And that’s the biggest limitation with any of these smart pill bottles or boxes. Short of adding a camera, which beckons thoughts of Big Brother, there’s no way to know what happened to a pill after it’s been taken out of its (smart) container. Although AdhereTech says it doesn’t plan on adding that feature to its bottles just yet, “technologies like that are things we do have covered in our recently filed patent,” Stein told Wired. “We don’t know how this space will evolve…Solutions like that are things we’re at least thinking about because we’ll hopefully have some IP rights to them.” That, too, sounds a lot like the smartphone space.