Why would a person who is ill – even with a life-threatening condition – resist taking their medications? The answers are as varied as the millions who are hospitalized every year because they skip their meds or take incorrect dosages.
In the US alone, someone dies every 19 minutes because of medication non-adherence – reason enough for an app like MediSafe, said Omri Shor, who along with his brother Rotem developed the app after his father accidentally double-dosed on insulin and suffered an emergency. So valuable is MediSafe’s technology that the company in 2014 won Qualcomm’s fourth annual innovation QPrize, collecting a total of $250,000 in prizes.
“Non-adherence to medication regimens is a problem that costs society billions a year,” said Shor. “Our system takes a different approach to encouraging adherence, using a data-driven approach that seeks to discover the ‘sweet spot’ for patients, and using that to encourage and remind them to take their medications.”
Far more than a reminder program, MediSafe examines patient behavior, keeping tabs on the times of day they take medications, when they go to the doctor, what information they read regarding their condition, who their friends are, and other information, all of which is used to encourage users to take their meds. “For example, in the case of a diabetic, we send them content that is suited to their situation,” said Shor. Some people do better with “scare tactics,” such as urgent missives telling them what the risks are of missing medications, “while others are more interested in scientific studies, so we send them that.”
Reminders can also come from friends – called “med-friends,” in the app’s parlance – with the system choosing which friend a patient is more likely to listen to in which contexts.
The app figures out the ideal times of day to send its reminders, based on how the patient uses their device, such as sending reminders when they are using it and timing the reminder for maximum effectiveness and attention.
The data gets recorded on MediSafe’s servers and is used to further develop the patient’s reminders, and, if permission is granted, is shared with doctors and clinics to provide and update information on patient behavior, producing more accurate data than a patient would report on their own during their monthly or quarterly visits.
Shor said it’s a lot more efficient and safe than relying on a patient’s remembering which pill to take based on a printed list, or even on one of those pill boxes that have the correct doses loaded in individual compartments, which is supposed to guide the user as to which dosages to take when. “It’s not sufficient to rely on the memory or habits of the patient,” said Shor. “That is a recipe for tragedy, because the user can easily forget or make a mistake, especially if they are ill. Even relying on one individual to mind the patient isn’t enough.”
The app is free for iOS and Android devices, and has been downloaded over 1.3 million times, said Shor, with more than 95 million doses recorded on MediSafe’s servers. While the company has many ideas for monetization, Shor and his brother prefer to perfect the app first. “We plan to collect anonymized data on users, which we can bring to pharmaceutical firms, to show them which medications are being used by patients in an area or for a specific malady. This data is very useful to the pharma companies because it is one of the few ways for them to keep track of pharmaceutical usage in the field.” Right now, he said, “we are focusing on the app itself so that we will be in a good position to monetize it when the time comes.”
Winning the QPrize was more than an affirmation of MediSafe’s model – it was a clear indication that the company’s technology has a great deal of value. In fact, it’s the kind of thing an insurance company or HMO would probably be very interested in acquiring. Whether or not that will happen is anyone’s guess; a report last week said that Shor and his brother had turned down a buyout offer from a US company.
“I can’t comment on that, or any other matter pertaining to an exit,” Shor said. “At the moment we feel the best thing we can do is to continue growing and developing our app, adding more features and gaining more users. I think that something very big could emerge from this. We have the right people and DNA to grow and become a large company and service provider in our own right.”