Vitality, Connecting Pill Bottles to the Internet, Nudges People to Remember Their Meds

If you’re the kind of person who needs a little help remembering to take your prescription meds, Cambridge, MA-based Vitality might have just the technology you need. It’s a wireless, Internet-connected medicine bottle cap that blinks and plays a tune when it’s time to down your pills.

The company’s “GlowCaps” system, which goes on sale today for $99, is designed to appeal to baby boomers looking for ways to keep their aging, forgetful parents out of expensive nursing homes or assisted care, says Vitality founder and CEO David Rose. But eventually, users might not have to pay for GlowCaps at all, because Vitality thinks the technology will also appeal to health insurers—and to pharmaceutical companies that want to recover the billions they lose in revenues when prescriptions aren’t used as directed or refilled on time.

The GlowCaps system is available exclusively through Amazon. It’s intended for people with hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic problems that can only be controlled through regular daily medications. In one beta test involving 50 Boston-area residents, Rose says, the system prompted patients to take their medicines on schedule 86 percent of the time, compared to the average adherence rate of about 50 percent.

And that’s bound to interest a couple of big constituencies. “There are really two primary customers for our company,” says Rose. “One is pharmaceutical companies that want to sell 25 pills a month rather than 15. If you’re a company like Novartis and you have a $2.5 billion drug like Diovan [a blood pressure medication] and it costs $4 a pill, that’s a lot of revenue you should be getting.” There’s also plenty of literature, Rose says, showing that high adherence rates lower the overall cost of care. “The other path to market, then, is the companies who pay for healthcare—both insurance companies and large self-insured employers.”

For now, though, Vitality is trying to build a market beachhead by selling the GlowCaps system directly to consumers. Inside the box are three components—a GlowCap, a reminder nightlight, and a small Wi-Fi router.

The GlowCap is the key component. It fits on top of a standard plastic pill bottle, and contains an LED light, a tiny sound chip, a wireless chipset, a watch battery, and a sensor that can detect when the bottle is opened. Most of the time, the LED emits a cool blue light, but when it’s time to take a pill, it switches to a pulsing orange light and plays a little electronic ditty. If the bottle isn’t opened, the ditties get longer and more insistent.

Vitality GlowCaps reminder lightAfter two hours, the cap sends a wireless message to the patient’s home Wi-Fi router, which relays it to Vitality’s servers via the Internet. (For the system to work, the user’s household needs a broadband Internet connection with an available Ethernet port—and obviously, the cap needs to be within range of the router.) Vitality’s system can then initiate an automated phone call to remind the patient to take their medicine.

Vitality keeps records of each time the GlowCap is opened, and uses this information to produce a weekly “adherence report” that can be e-mailed to the patient or an appointed caregiver or loved one. The data can also be shared with doctors via online personal health record systems like Google Health, Microsoft HealthVault, and Dossia.

Then there’s the nightlight, which plugs into a kitchen or bathroom outlet and connects wirelessly to the router. It shines orange or blue in synchrony with the GlowCap, providing an extra reminder.

The whole system is about creating “persuasive feedback loops” that start with unobtrusive lights and electronic sounds, and escalate to … 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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