Chronic diseases are expensive to manage, and one of the reasons is patient non-compliance when taking medication -- or in simple terms, forgetting to take their pills, says Gil Margalit. He’s the founder of a new Israeli company, Vaica
, to help young and old alike remember to take their medication in the right way at the right time of the day.
The Vaica solution is SimpleMed, an automated pill dispenser. The matrix box has pill slots for a week, four per day. Pre-programmed by the patient, primary caretaker or Vaica call center, the box sends alerts to the patient when it’s time to take a med, or it can send a “worry” alert to the caregiver if pills were missed.
In critical cases it can work as a two-way system with a panic button.
“Our call center will take action if a pill is not taken and we will follow the messages if we are given special instructions,” says Margalit. “Doctors can get access to this information.”
This straightforward solution to help dispense medication for the chronically ill is connected to the cloud and online environment. When SimpleMed is paired with other basic devices measuring blood glucose, weight gain or heart rate, it becomes a powerful monitoring center for doctors to know if the medication is working or if it should be adjusted.
In the long run, SmartMed promises to improve performance of clinical trials, since one of the concerns when monitoring the effects of an experimental drug is not knowing if the patient really took the pill as prescribed.
The device is currently available in different markets worldwide and can be programmed to work in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Hebrew.
Setup is a cinch
One concern when buying into a new high-tech device is the learning curve on setting it up. Margalit says that the SimpleMed can be as “smart” or “dumb” as you want it to be. It can be programmed from home, or the call center can program it for you.
An added feature is that it can send personalized messages to go along with every pill slot, such as “Take me with water” or “Take at exactly 8pm before bed.” Reminders can be sent by SMS or email too.
Unlike other solutions, it does not lock out a user if a pill isn’t taken on time, or pre-lock the other sections if pills are taken in advance. Typically such locks are in place so that caretakers don’t steal prescription pills, but Margalit says they can easily be tampered with.
Can the SimpleMed deliver on its promise to make medicine compliance better? In one clinical trial at an Israeli center where patient compliance was already high at 70 percent, SimpleMed managed to boost this number to 96%.
A new multi-center North American clinical study involving children suffering from kidney disease, run out of McGill University in Montreal, has chosen SimpleMed to manage compliance. The study head had tried a competitor’s product but found it was delivering alerts at inappropriate times, and was more complicated to use than the SimpleMed product.
Tailored approach to each country
Vaica was founded in 2007 by entrepreneurs who recognized the growing need for medicine compliance systems worldwide, and merged Israel’s high-tech capabilities with a pill-management solution. Today the seven-person company is based in Tel Aviv. After an initial $2.4 million in private financing, the company seeks a $5 million investment for marketing and business development.
The company currently has one solution in sales channels, and expects its next-generation wireless SimpleMed to be on the market in a few months. By the end of the year, SimpleMed will be manufactured on demand for specialty clients and pharmacies that want a tailor-made automated dispenser.
The business approach in each country is different, says Margalit. In the United States they are approaching pharmacies and HMOs. Both parties have an interest in using the product -- pharmacies in order to increase sales, and HMOs to reduce healthcare spending.
It’s estimated that 19% of Americans who are admitted to the hospital return within 30 days. Therefore, healthcare costs can be offset if patients take their medicine at the right time, says Margalit.
“Medication compliance is documented at about 50% within one year, but after one or two it goes down to 33%. Low compliance comes with many implications,” says Margalit. “There are health effects and the economics of it. For instance, an elderly person who is not taking their meds right is seven times more likely to fall.”
The American Heart Association concurs by stating the number one problem in treating illness today is ensuring that people take their prescribed meds.