Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 19, 2015

New 'Talking Pills' Kickstarter May Reduce Medication Mishaps

It may sound ludicrous, but when the pills start talking, it's not because you've taken too many. Rather, it means a pathway to better health, and better medication. At least, that's what it means for TruMedicines, which recently launched a Kickstarter geared toward improving the quality of medication by not only providing a means to authenticate drugs, but also offering other details about the medicine on hand as well.

TruMedicines' new app will—once it's complete, of course—use a kind of two-factor authentication system to ensure that the pills on hand are genuine and safe to use. Using a mobile device, the app looks for a quick response (QR) code on the packaging, and then falls back to a cloud-based image recognition tool to make sure that the pill “looks” authentic. With those two systems running, the app can then provide information about just where the drug was manufactured, as well as its expiration date, and any adverse reactions it might generate to other pills.

Image via Kickstarter

What's more, the app actually steps up the accessibility quotient, offering not only verbal cues about the medications in question, but also providing it in large-font text, meaning that the visually impaired—regardless of degree—should be able to get by one way or the other, and those without literacy skills will gain similar advantage.

TruMedicines' app looks to address the major problem that can come along with medication: improper use. As far back as 2010, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy noted that, out of the nearly 11,000 Internet pharmacies operating, 97 percent were selling drugs that were utter fakes. That was, indeed, the impetus behind TruMedicines' development, when its founder—who also wrote the book “Making Pills Talk”—David Prokop first heard about children in other countries dying because of malaria drugs that weren't actually malaria drugs at all. Reports suggest that the medication mishaps that TruMedicines is geared toward stopping are responsible for over a million deaths annually, as well as billions of dollars worth of additional healthcare costs.

Still, the idea is an exciting one; the Kickstarter actually has a list of “blue pills” that all look similar, and when looking at this blue pill roster, it's easy to see where there could be some problems. Risperidone, a medicine for schizophrenia, shares more than a few similarities with the antihistamine Diphenhydramine.  Considering the sheer differences in those medications, it's a scary prospect; imagine dropping a tray of those blue pills and trying to pick one out from the other based on the shade of blue or the mottled nature of the pill's coloration.

A tool like TruMedicines could be just what the doctor ordered, so to speak, in terms of getting those medications properly dispensed. Throw in some reports of gamification tools and the like to make sure patients stay on medication regimens and that could be the start of something great.

Fake medications can lead to disaster. Missing medication has its share of problems too. Even something as simple as picking the right pill out of a lineup can be hard. But TruMedicines may be in a great position to fix several problems at once, and that makes for a solution that should have a lot more attention.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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