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Senior In-Home Health Care: Medication Management

Sep 30, 2017 by Comfort Keepers Newark, DE

A gigantic chunk of money – between $100 billion to $300 billion, in fact – is lost every year in the United States due to people not taking their medications properly.

In attempts to at least reduce this waste, various companies have invented “smart” medication bottles that can monitor a patient’s medication regimen more closely.

This could not only save the healthcare system money, but could also prevent up to 100,000 unnecessary deaths every year.

What is a “smart” pill bottle?

The number one reason why patients tell their doctors they don’t take their medications is because they “forgot.” That’s what sparked the idea for this device.

These pill bottles are deemed “smart” because they connect to the Internet in some form or fashion for the purpose of sending data. Both the bottles and caps can detect things, such as when the bottle was opened and how much medication was removed upon each opening.

If a patient forgot to take their medications, a little alarm goes off from the bottle, and either they themselves or a caregiver will receive an email or text message reminder.

The Studies

Two different studies were conducted to see the efficacy of these smart pill bottles and medication management.

The first involved a randomized trial of 50,000 patients taking medications for either depression or cardiac issues. The participants were given one of three tools: a daily pillbox, a pill bottle with little tabs to mark when they’ve taken their medications, and a digital pill cap that counts the time between when they open the bottle.

The second study focused on only 1,000 patients, all with heart failure. Each patient was given an actual smart pill bottle to use. In addition to using the bottle, patients were to receive a cash reward for every correct and timely dosage that was taken. An alert would be sent if a patient forgot.

The results from both studies were dismal. In the first, the digital cap didn’t work any better than the manual tools, and in the second, despite the alert and the cash reward, most still did not take their medications.

Why isn’t it working?

The problem, the researchers suggested, is most likely not forgetfulness. It’s that people do not like taking their medications.

This could be for a number of reasons:

  • Given many seniors aren’t very tech savvy, setting up and using a device that connects to the Internet may be confusing or even impossible for them.
  • Polypharmacy, or taking several different medications or different conditions, is common amongst seniors. It can become very confusing keeping track of which pills to take when and at what dosages.
  • It reminds patients that they are sick or that something is “wrong” with them, so they avoid taking their medications.
  • Medications can have a range of negative side effects. Some patients would rather forego the medication to avoid the side effects than to treat the illness they have.

That being said, though the reminder aspect is definitely an important component to improving medication management, it ultimately will not solve the problem of patients refusing to take their meds. Other methods need to be created and tested out to address this issue.

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