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Vitality GlowCaps: Technomarvel or Slippery Slope?

  • February 10, 2011
  • RPh on the Go

The latest technological breakthrough on the pharmaceutical market comes not in the form of a new drug or therapy, but in a revolutionary medicine bottle cap. Vitality GlowCaps have harnessed smart technology to remind patients to take their meds, and to inform on them if they don’t.

The function of these innovative devices is a series of escalating reminders. The caps fit on standard-sized pill bottles and start with lights and a sound alarm when a medicine time deadline is missed. If there is still no response, the clever little cap can make a digital phone call, send a text message, or even report to a caregiver or doctor.

When the pill bottle is opened, the cap assumes the medicine has been taken and relays this information to Vitality. Reports are sent to the patients and other concerned parties, like caregivers and doctors. The data is also used for automatic prescription refills.

The cap costs $10, and the service – available from AT&T – is $15 per month.

Is this a good idea? A number of questions spring to mind. First, text messaging and email are hardly secure. Medical records are confidential for a reason, and broadcasting patient information could trigger a number of patient privacy issues. This kind of detailed health information would be of tremendous potential value to insurance and pharmaceutical companies. New laws will be necessary to cover breach of privacy due to electronic transmission. Vitality claims that the transmissions are secure, but personally, I’d like their definition of secure – in detail. Is the transmission itself secure? How could they promise to “secure” a text message or email?

Another consideration is number of pills. If you only take one pill and tend to be forgetful, that’s one thing, but many forgetful people are older and may be on any number of pills. Perhaps the next invention in the works will be a “smart” weekly AM/PM pillbox, which would make far more sense in practical terms.

Finally, there is the issue of simple dignity. While some people would be grateful for a technological marvel designed to simplify their lives and make them healthier, many will object to digital spyware tracking and reporting their most personal information.

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) reveal that patients with chronic conditions fail to take their medication on time nearly 50% of the time. The theory behind the smart pill cap is that a persistent reminder will significantly improve the health of patients. The reasoning is sound, but the implementation seems to have a long way to go before it is practical, affordable, and truly useful. What do you think?

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