EHR Intelligence

mHealth tools track pills to reduce medication errors

By Jennifer Bresnick

Medication adherence is one of the most costly and most easily fixable healthcare problems facing the industry today.  With recent studies finding that nearly half of patients drop out of compliance even when out-of-pocket costs are waived, it’s important for providers to know why patients aren’t taking their pills.  mHealth apps for smartphones, internet-connected pill bottles, and other monitoring tools are helping slash the $290 billion non-compliance costs the system every year.

Patients don’t take their medications as prescribed for a variety of reasons: the pills are too expensive, they have unwanted side-effects, they forget due to advanced age or other factors, or they’re just not sure about the instructions.  While ideally, patients who are confused or experiencing side-effects would discuss the matter with their provider, that doesn’t always happen.  It’s a gap in care that holistic, patient-centered accountable care is trying to bridge, and mHealth is increasingly becoming an easy way to do it.

Take the new iPhone app MedSnap, for example.  The app was developed by former emergency physician Patrick Hymel after he discovered that his grandfather wasn’t taking the right medications every day, with a critical prescription getting lost among the 12 pills he had to swallow at each sitting.  “Not one of the eight doctors he was seeing, none of the nurses he talked to, none of us [his family] caught it,” says Hymel. “And I realized that no one can easily check to see, do we know what this patient is actually taking, and are these the correct pills?

MedSnap allows a patient to photograph their pills and get an instant identification of the medication from a databank of more than 3,300 over the counter and prescription medications, based on the size, color, and imprint of the pill.  Patients who lose a pill bottle or need to keep track of a complicated cocktail can know exactly what they’re taking, and find out if the handful of pills contains anything that might interact with one another.  The app helps reduce confusion without embarrassing a patient by asking them to return to their provider and confess their mix-up, something that patients are often unwilling to do.

Other tools use apps in combination with wired pill bottles that can sense how many capsules are left inside, how often a user is taking the pills, and track metrics that compare a patient’s test results to changes in their prescription regimen.  “As a pharmacist, I am very excited about this,” writes Timothy Aungst, PharmD for iMedicalApps. “I can imagine the time when my profession will be able to tell when a patient is taking their medications and then follow-up with them to find out what some of the problems are. Is it new side effects? Cost related issues?”

Understanding the reasons behind non-compliance can help care coordinators and physicians keep patients on track with their medications, which may help keep them healthier and prevent costly readmissions.  “I have seen too many patients that are non-compliant with their regimen that lapse back into acute exacerbations,” Aungst says. “Perhaps this technology will offer a chance to help prevent readmissions, scale back costs, and increase quality of life for patients.”

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