As technological advances surge forward and permeate nearly every aspect of our lives from making our travels faster, communication easier and procrastination more action-packed via YouTube, it is of no surprise that technology has also thrown its metaphorical hat in the ring in regards to medication adherence.

A common discussion surrounding many arenas in health, from prevention and risk reduction to improving quality of life and longevity, adherence to medication is a pressing issue in ensuring that drug resistance is kept at a minimum, particularly in contexts where limited drug development is unable to maintain pace with rapidly morphing diseases such as extremely drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In the developing world, limited drug development is often compounded by limited access to those drugs that are already on the market; thus increasing the demand to maintain the effectiveness of accessible drugs.

A wide range of new technologies have been developed to assist with adherence issues throughout the world. From time-release pill boxes to regional medication exchange protocols, the possibilities stretch wide and far. Here are a few that I found particularly intriguing:

UBox – a pillbox that reminds the user to take the drug on time, records dosages and prevents a patient from double-dosing by using special software. Also, allows health center workers to monitor patient vitals.

SMART drugs – enables the creation of a breath-detectable version of any pharmaceutical drug by using markers and hand-held detector

MagneTrace – a magnetic sensory necklace that tracks medication adherence by identifying a tiny magnet in specially-designed pills, then transmits, notifies or reminds user and doctor of success or missed doses

Ambient Orb – system designed to increase medication adherence by sending signal from PillBox to Orb when it is time to take medication

Despite their glittery appeal these devices have yet to prove their applicability and usefulness in the field is yet to be determined. As with many types of technology, the paths (and funding) for distribution along with the difficulties associated with maintaining devices in the field can be quite difficult. The issue of cost also leads to the question of whether funds would be more effective if diverted to increasing the number of accessible drugs.

Finally, as a colleague suggested over lunch recently, “Sometimes the most effective approaches are those that use simple devices in new ways for the context.” We were discussing expanding access to care in rural, mountainous Nepal, where it is incredibly difficult to schedule regular visits from community health workers due to terrain and weather, though the villagers needed some indication of when the health workers would arrive.

The solution? A bike horn that had not yet been introduced into the villages. Sounded from several miles away, this unique sound provided the appropriate, advance notification that health was on the way.

Only time will prove whether the high-tech luster fades from the aforementioned devices (and others) in favor of simpler means.

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