Design Con 2015

A pill dispenser that reminds you

May 20, 2014

Bernard Cole-May 20, 2014

An automated pill dispenser is now available that brings together wireless M2M and IoT as well as mobile phones in a service that not only people who take regular medications will appreciate but health nuts as well. But is is not for everyone.

It is part of a montlyservice from a company called MedMinder, and except for the power supply cord that brings it to life, the 28 slot pillbox (Figure below) looks like just about any pill dispenser. It measures about 2 inches thick, 12 inches long and 6 inches wide, deep enough to hold a large number of pills in each slot.

The magic of the device is that the powered pillbox is equipped with a secure M2M Bluetooth module made by Gemalto (the Cinterion PHS8 smart card) that provides a 24/7 automated wireless link from the pill box to the patient, doctor, family member and MedMinders medical alert monitoring center.

The sensor-based dispenser monitors medication usage (open and close) and sends that usage information over the wireless network to a central server at MedMinder. Should the user of the dispenser forget about a needed medication, an audio alarm alerts the him/her at a predetermined time - immediately, or later, within the constraints of the medication's effectiveness.

Caregivers also receive alerts if scheduled doses are missed giving them the ability to offer real-time support.. The patient can chose their preferred method of communication as the connectivity enables the pill dispenser to send reminders via text message, email or a phone call.

When it’s time to take a medication, the appropriate compartment flashes. If the cup is not removed within the assigned time frame, the user of the pillbox will get auditory prompts as well as optional automatic phone calls, text messages and emails, or,  all of the above, to be sure.

For parents or family members who feel they should monitor the pill taker's medications, as well as the physician, with the push of a button the pill dispenser will open a two-way voice channel with health professionals from a monitoring center.

Pill taking activity is monitored by MedMinder and this information is available online to the patient or other health care professions he/she thinks should be notified. by immediate email or text messages notifications and weekly reports.

MedMinder is a monthly service and has no upfront costs or long term contracts and the service and the pillbox can be used as long as the user wants to do so. If you sign up online MedMinder will send the unit to you. If you want to stop, you can send it back and MedMinder will stop charging the monthly prescription.

While the company has a set of patents pending on the system it has developed, I expect that other similar systems to begin to show up with "improvements" and alternative user profiles.  For one thing MedMinder bypasses the cellular and other communications links normally available to the average consumer, using its own network connections. I have enough problems with variable wireless reliability on some of the consumer devices I have. They are all  are tolerable - if irritating - on my Kindle or my cell phone. But not with something like this.

Second, it is a service rather than an automated standalone box and there are number of other  "use cases"  which involve a standalone unit which be more attractive to the independent minded. I like the idea of its automation and its ability to alert the user if he or she has forgotten to take his pills. But a monthly fee? Like many of you I have many online services and software packages - like Microsoft's Office 365 - that are charged on a monthly service. I am not sure I want to put up with yet another one.

Then there is the quality of the people you have to interact with when you are using one of these "remarkable" new medical appliances. In my experience, some of these so-called call center personnel are escapees from a PC help desk service, and dealing with them is not the most pleasant - or useful - experience in the world.

For the independent-minded, the fact that everybody and their brother will be involved  with the pill takers use of MedMinder - physicians, nurse, pharmacists, family members, etc. - may be off- putting. I don't know about you, but I just want to take my meds and supplements on time and and do not need a committee involved.

For the elderly and seriously - or even just chronically- ill this would be a useful and necessary service. But there a whole range of other health-conscious potential users who would like a pillbox that reminds them, but would not want to put up with the nagging from a committee looking over your shoulder.

As good an idea as it is, I think I will wait for a cheaper standalone unit to come along. Until then, I will keep using the scheme I have now- seven humongous coke drink containers like you get at the local quick stop food outlet, properly labeled Monday through Sunday. I leave my pills in their original packages - about seven to twelve of them -  and transfer each of them when I have removed a capsule into the next day's coke container through the week.No sweat, no problems, no committee.

Embedded.com Site Editor Bernard Cole is also editor of the twice- a-week Embedded.com newsletters as well as a partner in the TechRite Associates editorial services consultancy. He welcomes your feedback. Send an email to bccole@acm.org, or call 928-525-9087.

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