For many reasons, people fail to take their prescription drugs as instructed. Sometimes they forget. Sometimes they don’t want to (or can’t) spend the money to buy the medications. For whatever the reason, however, the estimates for the increased healthcare costs due to nonadherence range as high as $300 billion per year. The consequences are even greater when a pharmaceutical company is conducting a drug trial. If one of the subjects fails to take the medication as directed, that person’s data is compromised and can distort the study’s outcomes. Given the high costs of drug trials, this is an expensive problem.

The German company Schreinger MediPharm has come up with a solution for this problem. They have developed a smart pill pack that wirelessly tracks a subject’s use of the pills. The pills are stored in typical plastic blisters, and the subject presses on the pill to pop it out the back. Printed electronics are incorporated in the pill panel. When the pill is removed in this way, the date and time, type of pill, and its position in the pack are all recorded. This information is sent via Bluetooth to an app running on a smartphone or other device, which forwards it to a database. Monitoring this information makes it feasible to generate reminders for the subject if a dose is missed.

The system produces increased adherence by test subjects in drug trials. This means that trials can be conducted with a smaller test group (because less data is lost through non-adherence), and ultimately the overall cost of a drug trial will be reduced. In time, the cost of smart pill packs may come down to the point where they can be used for patients in general. This will make it easier for their physicians to monitor adherence, and should result in better treatment outcomes without the secondary complications that add so much to overall healthcare costs.