The Context-Aware Pill Bottle and Medication Monitor Video – Great Without Glitz
There is nothing technologically unique about the Context-Aware Pill Bottle and Medication Monitor (an accurate but not euphonious and decidedly not catchy name) from the University of Calgary, and there is certainly nothing slick in the production values of the video about that appliance. Yet, it is indeed a must-see presentation.
The first portion of the video, which explains the intent, positive effects, and workings of the mechanism, will appear familiar to anyone who has seen promotions for medication dispensers/reminders, but the portion that follows the “Critique” heading enters uncharted territory to those who don’t routinely attend research meetings. It is during this critique, you see, that the same individual who presented all the benefits of the device discusses possible flaws in its design. The informative critique is not only enlightening but also heartening.
Of course, this is a video version of a research paper. One shouldn’t expect an ad agency to suggest the same sort of balanced presentation to a client trying to sell a product.
Still, one can dream.
The Context-Aware Pill Bottle and Medication Monitor1, May. Video and two page paper, duration 3:58. Also as Report 2004-752-17, May.))
Abstract: The video illustrates and critiques a context-aware pill bottle/stand that reminds the elderly when it is time to take their medication. A medication monitor situated in a caregiver’s home displays awareness information about the elderly user’s medication compliance.
Agarawala, A., Greenberg, S. and Ho, G. (2004). The Context-Aware Pill Bottle and Medication Monitor. In Video Proceedings / Proceedings Supplement of the UBICOMP 2004 Conference. ((September 7-10, Nottingham, England↩
Gosh, this is difficult. Well, I may as well just come out with it – at the risk of appearing to be a shill for Pfizer, I must admit that the points made by European brand manager, Chris Venn, at eyeforpharma’s recent Patient Compliance Europe 2008 conference, as reported in Patient compliance programs: Learnings from the trenches, are valid, insightful, and useful.
That’s right – Mr. Venn is pushing ideas that are congruent with my own.
I know, what are the odds?
Now, I’ve happened onto Dose Of Digital, a blog produced Jonathan Richman, who previously “led some of the compliance initiatives for Arimidex, a breast cancer treatment, at AstraZeneca, a card-carrying member of Big Pharma.
The blog is dedicated to “help[ing] figure out how healthcare can leverage some of the digital technologies available today.”
Well, that’s nice. What impresses me, however, is Richman’s willingness to point out the glaringly obvious – such as compliance is a complex and complicated issue. And Mission Accomplished claims for a single compliance methodology should be held suspect. Does that sound familiar?
So, if Mr. Rose says it isn’t a “reminder problem” and that most devices are “glorified alarm clocks,” how is his device which includes services such as “reminder calls” and “weekly emails” not a reminder device that’s a “glorified alarm clock?” The answer is that it is. This device is a glorified alarm clock. Just because it doesn’t ring and sends an email instead doesn’t change this fact. Using digital, such as email, doesn’t inherently make your product better or change it’s basic function.
If reminders worked, then simple beeping alarms would have solved the compliance problem long ago. The way I look at this is for a serious disease like breast cancer, isn’t opening your eyes each morning enough of a reminder that you have a disease that could kill you at any point? I’d think that might remind you about your medication. If reminders worked, wouldn’t the fact that you could die be reminder enough?
The reality is that compliance isn’t a reminder issue. It’s a complex psychological issue. People don’t take their medications for a number of reasons many of which include the patient’s decision that the drug isn’t helping them or isn’t necessary. Very few patients are informed enough to truly make this decision (they’re called doctors though) and yet it happens every day. People aren’t convince themselves that the risks outweigh the benefits or that they are feeling fine, so they must be “cured.” Point is, it’s something different for everyone. Very few people actually stop because they simply can’t remember.
Now, zip over to Dose of Digital to read the rest of Glorified Alarm Clocks. Yes, now. Just hustle back here after you finish. While I await your return, I’ll be humming the Jeopardy tune that played while each contestant scrawled his or her “Final Jeopardy” answer, in the form of a question.
Da, da, da , da da, da, daaa, da, da, da, da, dah!, da, da da da da, da da, da, da da, da, …
Is that post cool or what? If I published those paragraphs here under my name, I’m willing to wager it would fit so well that no one would think it anything but one more of my politely phrased rants. As far as I know, Mr Richman and I were not separated at birth, he is not my evil twin (which leaves the possibility that I’m his evil twin), there has been no mind meld. I think we may be kinda like those identical cousins in the Patty Duke Show.1
One parallel post can, of course, be an aberration, but this is a blog that I’m going to watch closely. In any case, I am excited about the notion that a blogger, especially one with a heavy duty corporate background, seems to be pushing a patient compliance agenda that mirrors some of the ideas I promote at AlignMap. Heck, if a few more bloggers and corporate types come into (ahem) alignment, we could have us a movement.
Mr. Richman may not, by the way, agree with my assessment of our similarities. And, even if he does see our points of view as congruent, he may not necessarily view that as a positive.↩
Video Demonstration Of Zume From Health 2.0 Conference
The Zuri electronic medication reminder application produced by Zume, which was discussed in this blog three months ago (see Popularizing Patient Compliance Technology), was demonstrated at the Health 2.0 Conference (San Francisco, Oct 2008).
The video has made it to YouTube and, while the production values owe more to – well, YouTube than Coppola or Spielberg, the potential utility of such instruments is made clear.
Two Wall Street Journal articles that are especially pertinent to patient compliance were published on 20 November 2006 during the AlignMap blog’s holiday hiatus.
Cell Phones Provide Medication Information and Reminders
don’t 4get ur pills: Text Messaging for Health1 by Rachel Zimmerman explores the use of text messaging on nearly ubiquitous mobile phones as a real time means of conveying information about medical treatment, responding to healthcare queries, and, most significantly for patient compliance, sending reminders about medication doses to patients.
While I have been critical of marketing that promotes reminders of various sorts2 to be the complete solution to medication noncompliance or suggests that reminders always result in downright miraculous improvements in adherence rates, I am taken with the notion of cell phone text messaging as a useful tool for patients who have difficulty taking the right medications at the right time (a category in which I frequently find myself when a new medication, such as an antibiotic, is added to my ongoing medication schedule for a one or two week period) and for exchanging information precisely because it requires, for most of us, no new or specialized equipment and fits into our daily routines.
Because I already use an analogous service to text messages to myself about everything from taking out the trash early Monday mornings for the weekly pickup and buying specific items currently on sale at my local grocery to adapting a business presentation in time for a meeting next week, I can see how medication reminders could also integrate into rather than impinge upon ones behavioral patterns. I can also imagine younger individuals, such as my 18 and 21 year old sons who would promptly toss a reminder device that attracted attention to themselves under a passing truck, being comfortable with this type of reminder.
Readers may recognize one service provider mentioned in the article, Intelecare Compliance Solutions, as the group represented by Knight, the author of the Medication Noncompliance Blog:
Intelecare Compliance Solutions Inc., based in New Haven, Conn., sells a service — which companies can then provide to their employees or customers — that sends text, email or voice-mail messages reminding users to take their pills, refill prescriptions, get to appointments or check vital signs. Drug companies, insurers and large employers hoping to improve efficiency and decrease absenteeism are Intelecare’s main customers,
Patients, Doctors, Dollars, and Communication
Your Doctor’s Business Is Your Business by David Armstrong discusses how patients might best deal with the possibility that their doctor has a potential conflict of interest (e.g., a physician with a financial interest in an orthopedic device he developed might be tempted to prescribe it unnecessarily or a doctor might advise patients to undergo a CT scan at a given facility which he owned). While I certainly see the value of open disclosure on the part of clinicians re special financial considerations they might receive from prescribing a specific treatment, I’m less convinced of the practicality of the course of action promoted by this article. In a framed box entitled “WHAT EXPERTS RECOMMEND,” the recommendations are
1. Ask if your doctor has any financial connection to the recommended treatment.
2. If the answer is yes, seek a second opinion.
3. If unwilling to ask the doctor, do research on the Web. …
Even though I’m a physician myself, I would find it awkward to ask each of my doctors every time they prescribe a medication, operation, physical therapy, etc, if they will personally benefit from that transaction. Using as an example, the treatment I received for my recent hip fracture as an example, I should, according to a straightforward reading of the article, have asked about conflicts of interest when
My personal physician ordered a diagnostic x-ray from a facility located in a different office of the same medical building as his office
My personal physician had his nurse obtain blood samples for the hospital admission work-up
My personal physician referred me to a specific hospital for reparative surgery
My personal physician referred me to a specific orthopedic group for further diagnosis and treatment
The orthopedic surgeon recommended a hip pinning rather than other options
The orthopedic surgeon referred me to a inpatient physical therapist for purchase of an assistive walking device and training in its use as a condition of discharge
The orthopedic surgeon ordered pain medication for my post-operative use as needed
The orthopedic surgeon ordered follow-up x-rays of the hip to be done in his office before every follow-up appointment
The orthopedic surgeon recommended outpatient physical therapy at a specific facility
It seems to me that the real question readers are being prompted to consider is “Is my doctor ripping me off?” And, I think that is a legitimate enough concern; the problem is that if such fiscal treachery is afoot, one would hardly expect the perpetrator to automatically fess up when confronted with a simple question. How useful would it be to ask a car salesman, “By the way, my good man, are you charging me an excessive amount for this automobile and pushing the special undercoating only to build up your own commission?”3
The author of the article, perhaps recognizing this issue, advocates a second opinion if any potential conflict of interest is found. I’ve always pushed my own patients to obtain second opinions to pacify any qualms about my diagnoses or treatment recommendations, but second opinions are themselves often expensive (especially if not covered by insurance) and take time to arrange. Moreover, an expert in the appropriate field whose reputation is blemish-free and who is absolutely independent of potential conflicts may be hard to find on short notice. And, if the course of action recommended in the second opinion differs from the first treatment suggested, does the patient get a third opinion to break the tie? What if it turns out that the doctor providing the second opinion has his or her own financial arrangements that compete with those of the first doctor?
Finally, how significant and how specific to a given treatment does that financial involvement have to be to warrant notifying patients? Should the doctor who sells and dispenses mediations within the office list his profit margins for those medications? Does the prescriber who owns stock in a pharmaceutical company have a different obligation to inform clients than the prescriber who helped developed a medication and receives a royalty for every pill sold? Do doctors working for an HMO who receive an incentive for prescribing generic rather than brand drugs disclose that to every patient? Does a doctor who sends patients to a facility that uses a certain type of CT machine on which holds a patent have a different responsibility to disclose his financial arrangement than a doctor who orders CT scans on his patients done in the office with the CT machine his group practice owns and operates?
If the following statements were true, should I have told patients, “I’m prescribing Prozac for your depression, but you should be aware that Eli Lily, the company that manufactures Prozac, …
… pays me a royalty for every Prozac capsule sold because I helped get FDA approval”
… sells these capsules to our pharmacy wholesale and our pharmacy, which our practice owns, charges you a 200% markup when we sell you your medicine I’m prescribing”
… sends a salesman here every month who takes me to lunch where he tells me why I should prescribe Prozac instead of another medication”
… may be in the portfolio of some of the stock funds in which I’ve invested so their profit would benefit me”
… offered second year medical students at many medical schools in 1973 a free, medium quality stethoscope that I accepted”
I suspect few would think that admitting that I accepted a stethoscope from Lily is either necessary or useful, but defining how much financial involvement by a physician merits or requires disclosure is not a trivial task.
My discomfort with this piece, in fact, is not that the problem of a physician’s conflict of interest doesn’t exist but that the simple fixes the article described belies that complexity of the problem.
Additionally, such questions put to doctors are not always benign and may yield negative results, a concern noted in this excerpt:
Patient advocate Trisha Torrey isn’t so sure it is a topic worth bringing up. The doctor-patient relationship is already stressed, and questioning a doctor about financial connections “can create more harm,” she says. That doesn’t mean patients should be unconcerned about financial relationships. She says patients should do their own research and seek second opinions if they suspect their doctor could profit from a certain treatment recommendation.
Readers may also recognize Trisha Torrey as the author of Every Patient’s Advocate, a blog which occasionally appears here at AlignMap.
One possible reason, in addition to my stalwart Midwestern upbringing, my seven years of perfect attendance at Sunday School, the two semesters I spent at Oklahoma Christian College, and my preternaturally staunch moral fiber, for my incredibly righteous stance in this regard is that none of those entities has (yet) offered me any such remuneration. I mean, if someone were to go to the trouble of, say, placing a manila envelope filled with a significant chunk of cash in small, unmarked bills in a locker at the bus station and sending me the locker key, it would be rude not to at least consider taking the money. Or if Mr Murdoch, who could certainly afford it, saw fit to comp me a daily copy of the WSJ, to which I subscribe at the exorbitant, full-price online subscription rate, I would feel obligated to live up to the standards of politeness instilled in me by my mother and to accept that offer as a no-strings goodwill gesture from a fellow publisher.
I freely admit that both of the individual blog authors mentioned do occasionally email me, typically to tell me or ask me about something going on in the wide world of patient compliance or exchange a tidbit or two about our personal lives. Trisha, for example, moved recently, and we briefly discussed the stresses such endeavors may inflict on households. I am only a teen-tiny bit jealous that their businesses were mentioned in WSJ articles and mine wasn’t. Both bloggers have written positive comments about AlignMap or me in previous posts, which is always nice.
If this article falls in the “subscriber-only” section of the WSJ, readers without such a subscription may be able to access this article by first going to the Digg Connection to this piece and then clicking on that link↩
“Reminders” include wrist watches that signal the time for medication, dispensers with flashing lights, recorded messages, and overtly noxious sounds, telephone calls, orbs that glow at the appropriate time, and a variety of Rube Goldberg contraptions↩
While a villainous doctor might be more forthcoming and the questioning process more amusing and gratifying if one employed more vigorous interrogation methodology such as that used on TV police procedurals or in the Spanish Inquisition, those techniques could prove off-putting to some healthcare professionals and could tend to taint the relationship between physician and patient.↩