Ensuring patients take their medications correctly is an age-old problem for doctors and pharmacists. Healthcare professionals understand that prescription drugs must be taken as recommended – at minimum, 80 per cent of the time to get adequate therapeutic benefits. Unfortunately, current data suggests just half of patients do.
That’s a problem, especially when managing chronic conditions like hypertension and cardiovascular disease, where adherence helps prevent worsening of symptoms, hospital readmission and mortality. In the United States, approximately 50 per cent of hospital admissions occurred due to poor or inadequate medication adherence, which costs more than $500 billion annually. It’s a pressing issue recognized globally by organizations like the WHO.
Though some people don’t think it’s a big deal to miss pills here and there, it has a profound impact on patient health, caregivers, healthcare professionals and the healthcare systems they work within. Everyone believes in the importance of increasing medication adherence. What can be done? New innovations have sought to tackle that question, from the first plastic vials for prescription pills to blister packs to manage multiple prescriptions. The technologies may have been simple, but they were game-changers for patients and the healthcare system.
Blister packs group medications together in small, sealed compartments sorted into the days and times they need to be taken. Provided by pharmacists, these calendar formats reduce patient errors, improve adherence and offer convenience, eliminating the need to deal with multiple vials to prepare doses.
“This was ground-breaking technology when it was introduced,” explains James Lee, director, innovation solutions, Jones Healthcare, a medication packaging provider that partnered with a Vancouver pharmacist in the 1980s to develop the first multi-dose blister pack. “But our job is always to ask ourselves what else can we do? How can we make the technology even better?” For all medication adherence packaging, he explains it must tick the boxes for the three Ps – protect the product, preserve it, and provide essential information to patients.
“Though some people don’t think it’s a big deal to miss pills here and there, it has a profound impact on patient health, caregivers, healthcare professionals and the healthcare systems they work within.”
Smart or connected packaging meets all of those requirements and goes beyond with greater interactivity to improve medication adherence. “We’re used to being connected these days,” he says. “We all carry computers in our pockets, i.e. smartphones, that allow us to access personalized message systems, to collaborate and to use tools so we can talk to one another. All of those elements were there, so we sought to use them in a more dynamic way to help patients and improve health outcomes.”
In collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada, Jones Healthcare has developed connected packaging solutions – the next generation in medication adherence. The company has been using special conductive inks (printed electronics) over blister packaging to detect when a blister cavity is opened or closed by connecting it to a reusable transmitting device (basically a cell phone without a screen). In real-time, these electronic adherence cards can monitor whether a patient has removed their medication from the package, explains Lee.
That information is invaluable to caregivers and healthcare professionals, he notes: “Doctors will have a better understanding about whether a medication is being taken by the patient as prescribed. They can make informed decisions about dosage and whether a drug is working based on evidence.”
Jones’s CpaX™ Medication Adherence Platform taps into IoT (Internet of things, physical objects with sensors) technology and incorporates it into familiar medication dispensing formats, like blister cards. It keeps patients on track by sending them notifications on their mobile phone or landline when it’s time to take their medications, tracking and monitoring when each dose is taken around the clock, evaluating adherence and creating customizable reports for doctors and care teams to help inform patient-care strategies.
In addition to conductive inks and printed electronics, another option in the CpaX platform uses NFC (near-field communication) and RFID (radio frequency identification) capabilities that communicate with smartphones – something retailers have adopted for contactless electronic payments that allow customers to wave their devices or credit cards over a scanner. In medication adherence, these technologies can be instrumental for gathering and sharing information. A patient can access details about their medication, perhaps a video to explain it, or be prompted to refill their prescription with the tap of their smartphone to an NFC/RFID tag on the adherence package. Lee expects this type of technology to be widely available for pharmacy and patient use within the next couple of years.
“All of these technologies share common goals, And that is to improve medication adherence and health outcomes. These innovations in packaging can really make a difference.”
Meanwhile, a number of other companies have been developing technology around devices like automatic pill dispensers. Pharmacies can load cartridges with medications into a machine, which uses software to provide medication reminders.
“All of these technologies share common goals,” Lee points out. “And that is to improve medication adherence and health outcomes. These innovations in packaging can really make a difference.”
Produced with support from Jones Healthcare Group.