Poor medication adherence costs $290 billion a year

By Brian Dolan

Proteus Biomedical's "smart pill"A new report conducted by the New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI) found that not taking medications as prescribed leads to poorer health, more frequent hospitalization, a higher risk of death and as much as $290 billion annually in increased medical costs. Anywhere from one-third to one-half of patients in the U.S. do not take their medications as instructed. Not taking the medication on time, in the proper doses, or at all are just some examples of poor patient medication adherence. Reasons for following the proper medication regimen include: unpleasant side effects, confusion, forgetfulness, language barriers, and feeling "too good" to need medicine. Those with chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are among the groups that are less likely to follow their medication regimen. NEHI is urging the federal government to the issue a part of the national healthcare reform debate.

NEHI's report is an update on a 2001 report. The new one is based on seven systematic reviews of the medical literature plusinterviews with 16 health care organizations, insurers, drug makers and technology companies -- the report was financed by this group, NEHI said, but it was written independently of them.

"If physicians and other care providers are reimbursed for better health outcomes, we believe that will go a long way toward driving adherence because providers will have incentives to invest in the time and resources and counseling and technology and other tools that are really needed to educate patients and in some cases to change their behavior and to really move the needle on adherence," NEHI executive director Valerie Fleishman told the Boston Globe in a recent interview.

Of course, there are many wireless health tools and services that can help people follow their medication regimens. Just this week Vitality made its GlowCaps product commercially available for $99 on Amazon.com. Verizon Wireless also reminded its nearly 90 million subscribers that Vocel's The Pill Phone application was available for download for anyone who has a Get It Now-enabled Verizon Wireless handset and a couple of extra bucks to spare a month. There are also a number of iPhone apps for medication adherence guidance, including The Pill Phone, myPillBox and more. Healthcare providers are tinkering with the idea of sending medication reminders via secure text messaging, too.

In the not too distant future, sensor technology combined with intelligent medicine technology from Proteus Biomedical could serve as the ultimate solution to medication adherence issues. Proteus' Raisin technology can track whether and when a patient takes their medication. Proteus' technology can be embedded in the actual pill, just about any pill, the company claims. Proteus envisions a patient's doctor, nurse or even a relative will be able to confirm that the patient took the medicine. They will also be able to track the patient's respiration, heart rate and body temperature from their mobile phones. Proteus CEO Andrew Thompson told an ABC affiliate in California recently that he expects the company's technology to be commercially available in the UK in two years and in the U.S. in three years.

Read more about the NEHI study over at the Boston Globe