New power for sticking to medication plan

By Eric Wicklund
01:55 PM

One of the critical challenges to the successful adoption of patient-centered healthcare is ensuring that the patient adheres to his or her medication requirements. This means taking the right medication in the right dose at the right time, with the right outcomes.

The advent of mobile health technology, from SMS programs to interactive pillboxes to barcode scanning devices, gives physicians more power in assuring compliance. And with a lucrative market that not only includes physicians but also health plans, caregivers and large businesses, vendors are showing up on the doorstep with a wide array of new ideas.

Among them is Southborough, Mass.-based SentiCare, which re-introduced its PillStation at last year's HIMSS11 conference in Orlando, Fla., after receiving FDA approval and is now deploying the telehealth solution on a national level.

The PillStation is, for all intents and purposes, a “plug and play” device. It plugs into an outlet in the home, connects with a cellular, Wi-Fi or Ethernet hookup and offers real-time connectivity with the SentiCare Advisor Center. The system aggregates a patient's prescription drugs and provides clear images of those drugs stored in their containers, allowing caregivers to determine, in real time, whether the drugs are taken in the right amounts and at the right time.

Company co-founder Jogendra Jain points out that many people living at home with chronic conditions take several different medications, “and it's hard to get everything right.” And whereas an estimated 40 percent of all homebound patients adhere to their medication regimens, he says, a study of some 3,000 PillStation users has so far returned a 98 percent compliance rate.

Moreover, Jain says, SentiCare offers a medication management program that doesn't strain the resources of hospitals, physicians or other caregivers. Patients are monitored around the clock, and SentiCare issues reports regularly.

“Medication adherence is not just people forgetting or not knowing what to take,” Jain says. “It's really six or seven or 10 problems combined together. It requires not only a medication organizer but a medication manager, and one that can handle several medications.”

Another vendor in the arena is Covectra, which offers serialization, authentication and track and trace solutions to ensure product integrity as well as adherence. Steve Wood, president and CEO of the Westborough, Mass.-based company, says the company's solutions not only help identify and trace counterfeit medications, but also can also be used to track adherence and enforce discipline.

Wood points out that prescription drug abuse accounts for more deaths than illicit drug abuse, and that prescribers “are the biggest sources of the problem in terms of prescription drug addiction.” By combining smartphones with 2D barcodes, Covectra creates a program whereby patients can scan the barcode on their medications and gain access to information on their prescriptions - as well as a real-time link to a call center or physician that can answer questions, check prescription history and refer the caller to a drug abuse or therapy program.

“Two years ago the iPhone couldn't reliably process these barcodes. Now they're showing promise to do so much more,” says Wood.

“Pharma companies are going to start looking for these mobile applications that can help track drug information,” Wood adds, pointing out that the track-and-trace system developed by Sproxil is showing strong results in several countries in identifying counterfeit drugs. “And physicians need to be sold on the importance of adherence,” especially with a renewed interest on the importance of clinical outcomes. “A good adherence program (delivered with mobile tools) helps identify abuse, reluctance, even forgetfulness. It can improve the outcomes of patients by tracking serial numbers.”

“If (the patient is) not adherent, he's going back into the hospital,” Wood concludes. “And then everybody ends up paying.”

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