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Tablet App Provides Feedback, Improves Drug Adherence

Tablet app dashboard display

Android tablet app dashboard display. Medication feedback is provided in the top section of the screen. (

29 April 2014. Computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh designed and tested a tablet app, connected to electronic sensors on a pillbox, that provides feedback to older adults and helps them stick to their medication schedules. Anind Dey, a professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, and former Ph.D. student Matthew Lee, now with Philips Research North America, discuss their findings tomorrow at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.

Dey and Lee designed software to provide feedback on medication adherence receives data from sensors on a pillbox that logs when the pillbox owners take their medications. The system is part of a larger project called dwellSense developed to help older adults keep track of important tasks and provide caregivers with an unobtrusive way of monitoring their activities, and thus help older adults continue to live independently.

The medications tracking module is built into Android software that also records activities such as telephone calls and household chores like making coffee. The screen display provides reminders for the individuals to not only take their medications at a specified time, but also offers feedback when they take their medications, to help those who may forget. Current systems that provide only reminders, say the researchers, can interrupt other daily routines, and do not provide feedback in the form of a visible record.

The Carnegie Mellon team tested the tablet system with 12 residents of a Pittsburgh apartment house for older, low-income adults. The participants had multiple chronic conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension requiring regular medications. Researchers recorded the medications taken by all participants for two months, then half were provided feedback on the tablet display, while half received no further feedback.

The results show people in the group receiving feedback from the tablet improved their pill-taking behavior on a range of measures. The rate of adherence to prescribed schedules improved from 95 to 98 percent, while promptness of pill taking rose from 75 to 91 percent, and variation of the time of day for taking medications was reduced. The percentage of correct medications ingested also increased from 95 to 99 percent.  People in the group receiving no feedback showed no improvement on these measures.

The researchers report improvements in medication adherence dissipated when feedback was removed, which suggests continuous rather than periodic feedback may be an important factor. Dey also notes in a university statement that he and his colleagues are “not sure what the frequency of that feedback should be.” He adds, “I do worry about people becoming blind to this — that the display becomes just another thing on the wall that you ignore.”

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