Medical adherence remains a challenge for all pharmacies but the technology is out there, as Martin Hao from Healthera explains…

 

As consumers we are becoming ever-more curious about our health and fitness – many people measure food intake or track activity on a daily basis with apps and gadgets but as a nation we don’t have the same conscientious attitude towards medicines.

It is an area that has remained relatively untouched and yet now is the ideal time for pharmacies to explore it further.

As people begin to take greater control of their own health and the digital health space expands, pharmacies can use new technologies to boost medical adherence and provide patients with new ways to track their medicines.

Current Methods
Most UK pharmacies currently use only very basic means to boost patient adherence with technology, and frankly this is because in the past the technology just hasn’t been there.

However new technologies are now surfacing, giving pharmacies the ability to enable and encourage patients to take real control of their responsible medicine usage.

Already in common use across the UK are multi-dose delivery boxes (pill organisers) which are made up by the pharmacy to separate pills into labelled boxes for each time of day. This system is great for patients who need to take medicines several times a day, but on the downside they are not very portable and are only available for patients who are consistently on numerous medications.

Another drawback of the dosette box is that it has no real reminder feature and cannot track medicine usage. That is why many patients are encouraged to use automatic pill dispensers in conjunction with their pill organisers.

These pieces of hardware often take the form of wheel-shaped trays with alarms attached and they are proven to help. Again though these are relatively non-portable as they are bulky, they can be difficult and labour intensive for the patient to set up and they also provide no medicine tracking function.

So what else can pharmacies use?
Text message reminder systems have been trialled in several areas and have been proven to significantly increase adherence, but there is a catch.

Of the systems trialled, none were found to be sustainable on the pharmacy upkeep side as they were awkward to set up and required patient input in a form that was never developed efficiently.

That is mainly because of mobile apps, the newcomer to the main-stage. Until recently, mobile medicine reminder apps have been very primitive, and in their infancy they never really gained popularity. That is until now.

The emergence of new technologies
Today there are a whole host of medicine usage apps available for both mobiles and tablets which not only serve as a handy pill reminder but can now function much further than that.

Take Healthera for example (an NHS-funded Cambridge technology start-up), a free-to-use, simple medicine reminder which can manage patient service booking, link patients to their pharmacy with two-way messaging, and remind patients to order and then manage their repeat prescription requests.

Apps like Healthera can now also be used by the pharmacy itself, giving them the ability (through an integrated platform) to recommend and add patients, encouraging the pharmacy team to go that extra step further in promoting good medicine adherence.

And the pharmacies benefit as well. These systems are proven to improve customer retention, improve effective patient communication, provide a way for patients to view and book services more easily, streamline pharmacy procedures and help staff manage them better.

But can pharmacies do even more? Well currently, the answer to that question is ‘no, not really’ as the below technologies aren’t yet commercially available in the UK market. But it is only a matter of time.

A peek into the future
Smart pill bottles – the idea is that the bottle is equipped with sensors, which can detect when a medication is removed (via a cap or weight sensor) and will then send a message to an associated app or device.

Drug device integration – new sensors are now being developed, which are designed to work with inhalers and EpiPens to improve their functions and make them smarter.

Ingestible pill sensors – this technology (which has been developed and is already being trialled) puts a tiny ingestible sensor on each pill, which as it breaks down in the gastrointestinal tract, sends a message to an external sensor, worn by the patient. This method and can also measure pressure, pH, and temperature in the GI tract.

Healthera (Twitter – @ourhealthera) is a medicines management app.

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