It's fortuitous that the forthcoming Embedded Systems Conference (ESC), which is to be held April 13-14, 2016, in Boston, is to be co-located with three partner events, and that one of these partner events will be BIOMEDevice 2016, because I was just introduced to an amazing device that spans the embedded and medical domains.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I have to take medications over a period of time, I have a tremendous amount of difficulty remembering if I've taken them or not. Currently, the only medication I'm on is Crestor, which I take to control my cholesterol. All I have to do is take one pill a night before I go to bed. You'd think that would be simple enough, but I can’t tell you how many times I've laid there looking at the bottle thinking “Did I already take you or not?” Eventually, I err on the side of caution and don’t take a pill in case it's my second, but not taking the pill isn’t doing me much good either.
My dear old mom now has to take a number of pills at different times of the day. One of these medications is the anticoagulant Warfarin. I'm not sure how many times she has to take this each day, but I do know that the dosage varies day by day and that she has to take it within a very narrow window of time. Whenever I'm visiting and we're chatting, she'll suddenly leap up and say “Goodness! Is that the time? I'm late to take my pills!” Then we all run around in circles trying to find her purse and fetching glasses of water and suchlike.
I know some older folks who have a medication regime that would make your eyes water. Goodness only knows how they keep track of things. The problem is that, very often, they don't, which explains why there are thousands of deaths each year from people either forgetting to take their medication at all, or forgetting that they've already taken it and so they take it again… and again… and again…
Until now, the only aids of which I was familiar were the regular plastic pill containers you can pick up at the pharmacist. These come in all shapes and sizes, and they are certainly useful for remembering which pills to take on which days — some even break the day up into morning and evening — but they aren’t so hot when it comes to reminding you to take your medications as a specific time.
More recently I've discovered that programmable pill dispensers are available, but it's still up to the patient or caregiver to verify the medications, place them in the appropriate compartments, and manually program the medication schedule. Even worse, the programmable pill dispensers I've seen are the size of an electric toaster, which means they are OK for home use, but not something you would care to carry around with you on a trip to the cinema, for example.
In addition to patients dying, medication non-adherence increases health care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars each year. Furthermore, counterfeit drugs cost the pharmaceutical industry tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue each year.
All of which brings us to a really cool invention called InterMed, which was conceived by Steve Mullen. InterMed comprises two components — a software app that you download onto your smartphone coupled with a mechanical pill dispenser that clips onto the back of the phone.
Although they are hard to see in the image above, a number of Smart-Carts are plugged into the main InterMed case. In addition to the pills themselves, each Smart-Cart contains an embedded memory chip that is programmed with an encrypted medication ID and a digital prescription, which is used to automatically program the medication schedule.
Different members of the InterMed family can be designed to fit any Smart Phone, and the number of Smart-Carts is limited only by the size of the phone in question. The phone will vibrate and/or give an audible warning when it's time to take one or more of your medications. One very useful feature is to be able to see a picture and description of each type of pill as illustrated below.
Pushing a button dispenses the pills. The system also automatically creates a medication log showing which pills you took when. Click Here and Click Here to discover more details about the medication non-adherence problem and the InterMed solution.
I, for one, think this is a brilliant idea. It may take some time to get rolling, but I can well imagine patients going to the pharmacist and, instead of being presented with pill bottles they can’t read or open, being given Smart-Carts that they slot into the InterMed connected to the back of their smartphones.
The designer of the this little beauty, Steve Mullen, will be attending ESC in Boston, and I'm very much looking forward to meeting up with him there and seeing the InterMed in person. I will of course be reporting back (with pictures) after the conference. Until then, what do you think about the InterMed concept?