Startups, Patient Engagement

PillDrill takes aesthetic route to medication adherence challenge. Will it work?

The device at the center of PillDrill resembles a clock radio and that’s intended to help it blend in. It functions as both an alert and tracking device, with an RFID tag scanner to record when pills are taken.

PillDrill_HubThe push to solve the challenge of medication adherence has led to a crowded market of entrepreneurs with overlapping solutions. It has also led some investors to be fairly bearish about this particular subsector of digital health, especially ones with a direct-to-consumer model. But the team behind PillDrill sees things differently and thinks the fragmented medication adherence market offers an opportunity for its design-centered approach.

The device at the center of PillDrill resembles a clock radio and that’s intended to help it blend in to users’ homes. It functions as both an alert and tracking device to record when pills are taken.

“There’s no clear market leader like Fitbit is in the wearables market,” observed Peter Havas, PillDrill’s founder and CEO. He describes the competition as cumbersome, or requiring significant changes in habit or just demeaning. For its solution, Havas said, “It had to be uplifting, it needed to look good and had to be subtle because some people don’t want to advertise the fact that they take [several] pills.”

He emphasized that it had to fit into people’s daily lives and not force them to change existing habits.

When it’s time for users to take their medication, the drug name flashes on the screen. It asks users to use the device’s RFID scanner to read the RFID tag on the stickers applied to the pill bottles. It interprets these scans as the user taking their medication and records that data on a companion app.

The app can also be used to change the settings on the alert and scanning device. When users miss a dose, the device face blinks and elicits an alarm that’s easy on the ears. An RFID tag can also be applied to a mood cube and scanned so that caregivers know how their parents or loved ones feel. The idea is to give family caregivers peace of mind knowing their parents or grandparents are taking their meds according to their care plan.

There’s a certain subtlety with pill organizers in that friends and acquaintances may know you’re on medication, but would have no idea what you’re taking. PillDrill’s device takes that mystery away to some extent. I’m not sure how comfortable some people would be with the name of their drug flashing on a screen in the background.

Havas and his team developed the technology with family caregivers in mind, who live in either a separate town or maybe a different country entirely. Vice president of product design, Chris Li, previously worked for Amazon for eight years where he developed and managed the product team responsible for e-book readers Kindle Voyage and Kindle Oasis.

The package will initially be sold directly to consumers for $199, which includes the main device, a pill organizer and RFID stickers that can be applied to pill bottles. The company plans to begin shipping in May and is currently in discussions with potential retail partners.

The thing about medication adherence is that some companies see more value in integrating it as part of a larger program of patient and physician engagement for chronic conditions, such as Twine Health. Other companies such as Cohero Health and Propeller Health have applied sensors to do remote monitoring for devices supporting respiratory disorders.

I look forward to following PillDrill’s progress and how effectively they can surmount the challenges ahead.