Smart packaging could improve the way seniors take their medications

Older people are open to using smart packaging to improve their medication-taking experience, a new study finds.

Smart packaging is being used to electronically monitor when patients take their medications. When the prescription is not followed as advised by their physician, the smart system can notify patients and their caregivers.

About half of patients with chronic diseases in developed countries do not take their medications correctly. With an aging population where taking multiple medications is common, poor medication intake – known as medication nonadherence – is a problem that impacts patient health and costs the healthcare system billions of dollars.

There has been a rise in telehealth technology to address this problem over the past two decades, from complex home medication delivery devices to reminder apps.

“Many of these products are advertised as user-friendly and effective, but not all of them are tested with older people in mind. So how do you know if older people can use them for their daily medication and are there any factors that may influence their use at home?” said Sadaf Faisal, PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and lead author of the study.

The researchers visited and studied 10 participants in their homes with an average age of 76. On average, everyone took 11 medications for at least five chronic conditions. Participants received a smart blister that synced with a web portal and recorded each time a participant opened a blister to take medication.

The researchers then interviewed the participants to assess their experience with the smart blister. They were also asked to rank the ease of use of the technology against standardized scales used in product evaluation.

“Among the participants, we found fairly consistent pros and cons to the technology,” said Tejal Patel, professor of pharmacy and co-author of the study. “The ability to easily learn the product was important for participants to use it consistently. Feedback from their social circle – such as children, partners or healthcare providers who support them – also helped to enhance the use of technology.”

In general, participants who were more comfortable with technology were more open to using and enjoying the smart blister. However, the device’s size and lack of portability were a significant drawback, and if the product behaved inconsistently — sending reminders one day but not another, for example — participants grew frustrated. Participants also said that cost was a barrier to use and that they would be less likely to consider smart technology if it was not covered by a drug plan or funded by the government.

“For technology to be effective, it must be accepted by end users,” Faisal said. “Smart, technology-enabled compliance products have the potential to support patients, but healthcare providers should assess older adults’ medication-taking behaviors and the barriers and facilitators to using a product before recommending them.”

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Materials provided by University of Waterloo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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