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Patients skipping meds cost $290 billion per year—can ‘smart’ pills help?

Patients missing out on their medication or taking the wrong dose costs the U.S. health care system $290 billion and kills nearly 125,000 people each year, according to a new report.

Nearly three out of four Americans report they do not take their medications as prescribed, according to a report published Tuesday by Lux Research, which provides research on emerging technologies.

The report said 'smart' packaging, mobile apps, tele-medicine and new drug-delivery technologies offered the best ways to coax patients to take the right amount of medicine at the right time and for the right duration. If these technologies were introduced, public health systems and industries around the world could make savings as fewer people fell sick.


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Pill bottles that track you

Technologies for tracking medication adherence include smart pill bottles that detect when a patient opens the container and even how much medication is taken out. Patients are then alerted either by a physician or an automated system if they are not taking their medication as prescribed.

Other tools include ingestible sensors or wearable monitors that detect when medication has been taken and how the body responds.

"The fact that these technologies can detect the actual delivery of the drug is critical in certain high-risk populations, such as psychiatric patients or patients on high-cost treatments where a missed dose may have a direct economic impact in the tens of thousands of dollars," the Lux Research report said.

Smartphone apps

Insulin app
Patrick Hertzog | AFP | Getty Images

Smartphone apps or special software can photograph people when they take their medication, allowing physicians to track them in real time. Although the level of monitoring raises privacy concerns, such apps could give independence to people who would otherwise need another human to remind them to take their medication.

Medication "non-adherence" is so widespread it has been termed an epidemic by some doctors. It is more common among patients who have complex or multiple health problems that require them to take multiple medications and also among the mentally impaired or patients with psychological problems.

"With the growing population, and especially due to the negative trends associated with poor lifestyle choices, the number of patients with (multiple) chronic diseases will grow significantly in the upcoming years," Lux Research said.

"These patients are the most likely to struggle with keeping up with multiple medications and, to control the costs of care and improve outcomes, the healthcare industry will increasingly rely on medication adherence-monitoring solutions."

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