InnovationRx: Getting Patients to Take Their Own Medicine, Literally

It’s one of the paradoxes of modern medicine in the United States. At the doctor’s office and the drugstore, we say we want prescription drugs. In fact, we spend more than $200 billion on them every year. Between 1994 and 2005, a period in which the U.S. population increased by only 9 percent, the number of prescriptions patients had filled increased by a whopping 70 percent.

But when we get home, a strange intransigence sets in: large numbers of people never use the prescriptions they’ve been given, or don’t take them as directed. In a Harris Interactive poll last year, 35 percent of people said that fear of adverse reactions had kept them from taking prescriptions they’d already filled. The National Community of Pharmacists says that 24 percent of people fail to take the recommended dosage of their prescribed medicines, and that 29 percent stop taking them before they run out.

The healthcare industry’s term for this is “nonadherence,” and it’s a serious problem. The hit to the U.S. economy from health conditions that worsen when people don’t take their prescriptions correctly has been estimated at $200 billion to $300 billion a year.

Into this gap steps InnovationRx, a Newton, MA startup that thinks it can help improve medication adherence using electronic communications channels like e-mail, text messages, and live and automated phone calls. That idea, by itself, isn’t new; in fact, at least two other New England companies, Needham, MA-based Dovetail Health and New Haven, CT-based Intelecare, already offer similar outreach services. But InnovationRx isn’t just a reminder service. “What we are really setting out to do is identify the reasons for people not taking their medications”—and then craft a plan to convince them otherwise, company president Sean Teare told me last week.

“From a quick, 20-question online assessment we’re able to, first, determine who is likely to be nonadherent, and second, identify the reasons,” says Teare. “Is it cost? Fear of the side effects? Not understanding what the medication is supposed to do? Then we tailor an intervention based on that, and deliver it through the Web, or through a call center staffed by people trained in motivational interventions.”

InnovationRx LogoTeare gave me the story behind InnovationRx in anticipation of the company’s official launch later this summer. As I noted in my roundup of Boston-area “Health 2.0” companies yesterday, there’s likely to be a string of debuts this year by local startups that, like newcomer American Well, use Web technology either to reach patients or to process patient records, or both. I already knew, because I’d been told on embargo, that InnovationRx was one of them.

Teare, a former executive at TAP Pharmaceutical Products in Illinois, says the company devised its assessment system in collaboration with Nate Rickles, a professor in the School of Pharmacy at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences. Rickle’s PhD research focused on depression, where nonadherence is a major … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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