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Vital medicine

Disruptors: Vitality's Web-connected, glowing bottle cap reminds patients to take their pills, potentially saving millions of dollars in healthcare costs.

By Michael V. Copeland, senior writer
Last Updated: November 11, 2008: 1:13 PM ET

glowcap.03.jpg
The web-connected GlowCap lights up and plays music to remind patients to take their medicine.

SAN FRANCISCO (Fortune) -- The problem with pills is that you have to take them to work. That may sound obvious, but it's estimated that half the people taking prescription medication fail to stick to the regimen laid out by their doctor.

A small percentage of people take too many pills. By far the biggest problem is taking too few, or none at all. That has several implications. Death is one. Tens of thousands of people die every year because they don't pop their pills on schedule.

Short of death, the result is higher health care costs due to hospitalization. And for the $800 billion global pharmaceutical industry, the consequence is lost revenue. Healthcare consulting firm Bayser Consulting puts lost sales in the United States north of $43 billion because people don't take their medication as prescribed.

Vitality, a Cambridge, Mass-based startup, is targeting this health and business problem with an Internet-connected pill bottle cap. Dubbed the GlowCap Connect, the wireless gizmo glows and plays a tune to remind you when it's time to take your medicine.

It also keeps track of your doses day by day by counting the times the cap is opened, sending the data to a Vitality-hosted database. (While the system knows when a bottle cap is opened, it can't determine if the correct dosage of medicine is actually taken.)

With this cheap, easy way to gather the data in your medicine cabinet, Vitality can track how many times a person has taken the medicine in a day, a week or month, and map that against the schedule a doctor has prescribed.

If patients stray from their schedule, they get alerted via e-mail, or their spouse, mother, doctor, whomever they might want to notify, gets notified. The idea is that your relatives and friends can be gentle (or not so gentle) nags to get you back on track before health issues are the consequence. Your pharmacy can even send out a reminder when it's time to refill, and include coupons for other items.

Since July Vitality has been in the market with a $30 pill bottle cap, that reminds you to take a pill once a day, but without all the Internet bells and whistles. The connected device is entering a pilot with a national pharmacy chain - which Vitality did not want to identify - in mid-2009.

Rather than sell the connected pill cap, Vitality CEO David Rose says it will more than likely be a giveaway (patients would opt-in) with expensive, very schedule-sensitive drugs. The pharmacies, perhaps in combination with drug makers, would pay for the caps.

"It might be for organ transplant patients, or patients with HIV on anti-retrovirals," Rose said.

Ideally, the connected cap would eventually be rolled out for all kinds of prescriptions. "For pharmacies it is another way for them to connect with their customers," Rose said. "It helps get them back into the pharmacy to buy things other than just their prescription medicine." To top of page

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