Fending off Forgetting: Pillboxie

Posted on July 17, 2012 by

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Managing medications is a difficult endeavor.

I’ve come up with this brilliant little solution: When I wake up and take my morning meds, I then throw them, so I’ll know I’ve taken them. I throw the ones I won’t need again into my pill basket (or I try to, I’ll never make it as a quarterback), and throw the one I need to take again into the middle of the room because (there’s a method to my madness) that way, I convince myself, I’ll see it when I return to my room, and remember to take it at 12:00.

But therein lies the rub. Because I’m busy doing other things, I fail to return to my room, where the pills are innocently lying on my floor, waiting to be loved. Another medication moment down the drain. And I am very far from alone.

Almost half of Americans take at least one prescription drug every day; 1 in 6 take three or more daily.

For those with chronic illnesses, the numbers increase exponentially. Patients with bipolar disorder need what’s now called a “med cocktail,” and it’s not uncommon for them to be on 4 or more medications.  The average diabetic takes 9 pills daily.  One person with fibromyalgia reported taking 55 pills a day.

If you throw in vitamins and supplements and figure that the medications need to be taken at different times during the day, you’ve got a lot on your plate.

Thus it’s no surprise that rates of forgetting to take medications are shockingly high. The Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive poll reported that two-thirds of adults surveyed said they forgot to take their medication.

With rates of forgetting like these, patients have unnecessary suffering, and it costs the healthcare system money as they need to be ‘patched up,’ at the doctor’s, or, all too often, in the hospital.

But, as the mantra has become: There’s an app for that.

Actually there are several, but one of the newer and more elegant ones is an iPhone app called Pillboxie.

Pillboxie is unique in med-reminding apps in that it uses visuals of your medications, instead of just the standard name and dosage, and a visual image of an actual pillbox. In that way it becomes the graphic equivalent of a pillbox on the screen–just with bells and whistles.

Setting up the application is simple, accessible to even those with the most basic of iPhone skills. The user selects a picture of her medications, and then manually maneuvers them into the ‘pillbox’ that is marked with the times at which the meds should be taken.

The single most burdensome part, especially if you have a heavy medication load, is the one-time entering of each medication to set up the system. The user enters the medication by typing in the name, choosing a shape and color, filling in the reason she takes the med and instructions, and then, the most important piece, establishing the schedule. Oddly, dosage is not required when entering this information, which would be some really useful information to have.

Once the meds have been established, you schedule your reminders by ‘dropping the pill in the pillbox’ for the requisite time.

There are some truly well-thought out features on Pillboxie.

In a clever maneuver, reminder alerts will pop up on the phone even if it’s asleep–a crucial feature. Additionally, the app supports multiple users, so a mother, say, could set up her medication regime on the same app as her husband’s, children’s, and older mother’s. It’s quite convenient. Also, each day you can see a master list of sorts of the meds on your ‘to do list’ for today, and you can check them off on the app as you go. At $.99 cents it seems  a real find.

Just in the interest of full disclosure, however, a review piece by a doctor, entitled, not surprisingly “Physician review of Pillboxie, a medication reminder app for patients,” makes an excellent point about what the app lacks–and it’s a serious oversight.

You can’t print your medication list, or e-mail it. Given one of the best aspects of mHealth is the communication between physician and patient, the inability for the doctor to access this information is less than ideal. [RxmindMe Prescription allows you to e-mail a spreadsheet of your meds to your doctor, in case this issue is a deal-breaker for you.] Additionally, you can only set up reminders on the hour, so if you’d like an 11:45 reminder for a 12:00 pill, you’re simply out of luck.

Another small point: There’s no way to indicate a limited time frame for a medicine. If you’re put on an antibiotic, say, for 10 days, you have to enter your tetracycline as you would any ongoing medication–and then erase it when the time is up.

To their credit, the developers are most responsive to input such as this. You can either e-mail them at pillboxie@gmail.com  or access them via Twitter, where you’ll see responses like, “Anything you’d like to see added?,” and (a personal favorite) “I’m working on a complete redesign of the history page for a future release. At the moment it sucks, I know. :)”

Despite these criticisms, compared to hurling medicines across the room in an effort to track them, Pillboxie offers a med-management world of elegance and grace.