‘Smart packaging’ technology could make it easier for seniors to take medication

WATERLOO, Canada — It’s often difficult for older people to take their medications correctly and regularly, but a new study reveals that “smart packaging” may offer a solution. Even better, the University of Waterloo study authors report that older adults are very open to trying smart packaging for their daily medications.

Smart medication packaging is used to electronically monitor exactly when patients are taking their medications. In the event that a prescribed drug treatment is not followed as advised, the technology inside the package sends a signal warning the patient and/or their caregiver.

It may sound like micromanagement, but it’s estimated that around half of patients living in developed countries with chronic conditions don’t take their medications as advised. With the world’s population continuing to age and many older people requiring multiple prescriptions on a daily basis, medication non-adherence in the elderly is a major and widespread problem.

Over the past two decades, however, a litany of new telehealth technologies have emerged capable of solving this problem. Examples range from reminder apps on smartphones to more complex home medicine delivery devices.

“Many of these products are advertised as user-friendly and effective, but not all of them are tested with older adults in mind. So how would we know if older people are able to use them for their daily medication and are there any factors that may impact their use at home? said the study’s lead author, Sadaf Faisal, a doctoral candidate at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy, in a statement.

Advantages and disadvantages of “smart packaging”

A total of 10 study participants (mean age: 76) were studied in their homes for this project. The average study subject was taking 11 medications for at least five chronic conditions. Each subject received a smart blister linked to a web portal to record each time they opened a blister to take their medication.

Study subjects were also interviewed to get their opinions and experiences using smart blister packaging technology. A section of the survey asked participants to rate the ease of use of the technology compared to standardized scales typically used in product evaluation.

“Among the participants, we found fairly consistent pros and cons to the technology,” says study co-author Tejal Patel, professor of pharmacy. “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.

Generally, seniors who were more comfortable with new technologies were more open-minded about using and appreciating smart blister packs. That being said, the device’s size and portability issues were cited as bothersome drawbacks. Additionally, if the device malfunctioned in any way, such as sending a reminder one day but not another, subjects reported feeling frustrated. Of course, cost is also a consideration. Participants said they would be less likely to use such devices if they weren’t covered by a drug plan or funded by the government.

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

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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