EInk pharma package

I could go on a lot longer, but this will be my final post that is directly about what I saw at CES 2016. This entry is a bit unusual, because I learned something important about the pharmaceutical industry when I visited the booth of a display technology company. This seems to be an unlikely connection, but I was fascinated by what I learned.

My visit was to the E Ink booth, a company known for its “bistable” display technology. This means that you can create an image on one of its panels and then disconnect the power, and the image will remain until you connect the power again and write a new image to the display. This technology is in use in applications ranging from grocery store price labels to bus stop signage. It’s also used in some wearables (such as the Withings Go that was introduced at CES 2016). The bistable display uses far less power than LCD or OLED displays, which translates into longer battery life.

In the E Ink booth, I was shown innovative packaging for pharmaceuticals called PhutureMed that incorporates an E Ink display. One function is to monitor the storage conditions for the medication, and issuing an alert if it should get too cold or to hot during shipment or storage. But the really interesting function is that the packaging can also track when it has been opened, which means that it knows when the patient has removed one of the pills. In the photo above, you can see the printed electronic traces on the right; these are connected to a blister pack on the other side, and the controller can track the time that an individual pill is removed. If a patient is late taking a dose of the medication, an alert can be triggered. This is important for a number of reasons. First — and possibly the best — is that one of the main reasons that medications are not as effective as they should be is simply due to non-adherence with treatment instructions. Patients miss doses, and this reduces the efficacy of the drug. According to the New England Healthcare Institute, this can result in $290 billion in extra healthcare costs each year in the U.S. alone. One other effect of missed doses is that the pharmaceutical companies lose out on drug sales. According to one source, one out of five patients who only take medications once a day will miss at least one dose. If only 1% of all doses are missed, that adds up to a lot of lost revenue for pharmaceutical companies.

As a result, smart pharmaceutical packaging like PhutureMed can save lives, improve treatment outcomes, save healthcare costs, and contribute to the revenues of the drug companies.