Study aims to find out what helps patients take their pills

BOSTON – The orb knows. What Joseph Kvedar, MD, wants to know is whether the fact that the orb knows will prompt patients to adhere to their medication regimen.

Kvedar, a dermatologist and vice chair of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, is founder and director of Partners Telemedicine, a division of Partners HealthCare. He is often engaged in research of this nature.

Of this project, Kvedar says: “It had a lot of appeal. “Adherence is an important plank in the platform of self-care.”

A so-called “smart pillbox” connects to an orb – a flashing globe-shaped device the size of a softball. The globe flashes red to alert a patient it’s time to take medication. Once the patient takes his pill, the orb turns green.

“You don’t want to remind someone to do something in a nagging way,” Kvedar said. The orb is “attractive” – something that would easily fit in most décor, he said.

And, especially important, it’s easy to use.

“You plug it in, and it works,” he said. “It boots itself up. There are no urls.”

Kvedar tapped Boston-based Claricode to develop the software application that makes it all work via a cell phone. Andrew Needleman, managing partner of Claricode wrote the code which makes the pill box and orb “talk” to one another and enables the capture of data for the research. The central application is alerted through the cell phone network when the pill bottle’s cap is opened and then closed.

The orbs are manufactured by Cambridge, Mass.-based Ambient, which describes the Ambient Orb as “a glass lamp that uses color to show weather forecasts, trends in the market, or the traffic on your homeward commute.”

At the end of September, Kvedar had recruited about a half dozen patients to participate in Partners Telemedicine study. He is aiming for about 70 participants. He hopes to have the study complete by year’s end.

The goal is to “find out whether this kind of reminder works,” he said.

If it does, it could help improve medication adherence rate, which averages about 50 percent, he said.

Kvedar expects the first adopters might be health plans and large employers – healthcare payers whose bottom line would benefit from patient adherence to medication plans.

He also imagines other uses for this type of technology – measuring a patient’s activity for example. In that case, the device could be a pedometer instead of a pillbox.