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A start-up helping patients stay on top of their meds

After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly misused substances by Americans age 14 and older.
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America's $290 billion pill problem

One of the biggest challenges for health-care providers today is getting patients to actually take the medications they've been prescribed. New York City-based start-up AdhereTech is out to change that.

It is one of a latest crop of health-care companies that address an alarming trend that is costing the United States about $290 billion a year: the non-adherence to prescribed medications. Studies have shown that 20 percent to 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled, and 50 percent of medications for chronic disease are not taken as prescribed, according to a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This not only causes death but an increase in hospitalizations and cost to our health-care system.

Recognizing the problem, AdhereTech makes patented smart pill bottles that track and improve medication adherence in real time. The wireless bottles are loaded with state-of-the-art technology to tell when patients take their medications, aided by sensors that measure the open and close of the bottle, as well as the bottle's contents.

"It compares what patients are doing, to what they should be doing. If our system notices a discrepancy, which means a dose is missed, we have a bunch of interventions," said AdhereTech's CEO and co-founder Josh Stein.

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The bottles analyze and stream data back to providers so they can study how medications are being taken once administered. If a dose is missed, the bottles light up and chime to remind patients to take their pills. The technology can also prompt reminder phone calls to landlines or cellphones, as well as text messages to patients and caregivers. Doctor interventions can also be activated. While it sounds like a high-tech solution, Stein insists it's anything but.

AdhereTech makes smart, wireless pill bottles that track and improve medication adherence among patients.
Source: AdhereTech

"Our average user is about 70, and one-third don't even use cellphones," he said. "The bottle works automatically out of the box — you don't need a cellphone or Bluetooth to use it; it works just like a normal bottle."

The battery lasts for more than six months on a single charge and can then be recharged for reuse. The bottles are distributed in the thousands across North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Stein intially got the idea for the business during a conversation with his parents, both of whom work in health care. The concept has developed rapidly since then and was launched in 2011 by Stein, along with co founders John Langhauser, 32, and Mike Morena, 30, in 2011, after participating in the Blueprint Health accelerator in New York City. To date they've raised $2.4 million from investors, including Blueprint and GE Ventures, and the company is already profitable.

The benefit to health-care providers and pharmaceutical companies is to "go beyond the pill" and help ensure that patients are following through on instructions once they leave the hospital or pharmacy. And users say its working.

"Patients have actually changed their behavior in response to having the bottle," said Leah Burke, instructor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, which is using the bottle to improve compliance among HIV patients in its clinic for a trial.

"They say it makes them better at remembering, puts them on a schedule, and I think that's the most important thing — it actually induces a behavioral change," she said.