A recent study by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, published in the PLOS One open access channel, found older adults are open to the use of smart packaging to improve medication adherence.

The ability to learn the product easily was important for consistent use, while downsides were device size, lack of portability and if the device acted inconsistently.

Smart packages have been capable of electronically monitoring when patients take their medication for some time. In addition, they can alert when the prescription is not followed, as advised by their physician. The smart system can notify patients and their caregivers.

Research has shown that approximately half of the patients with chronic diseases in developed nations do not take their medication properly. With an aging population, where taking multiple medications is common, incorrect medication-taking is a problem impacting the health of patients and costs healthcare systems billions of dollars.

Since the start of the 21st century there has been a surge of telehealth technology to address this issue ranging from complex at-home medication dispensing devices to reminder apps. “Many of these products are advertised as user-friendly and efficient, but not all are tested with seniors in mind.

So how would we know if older adults are able to use them for their day-to-day medication intake and are there any factors that can impact their in-home utilization?”, asked Sadaf Faisal, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy and lead author of the study.

The researchers visited and studied 10 participants in their homes with a median age of 76. On average each took 11 medications for at least five chronic diseases. The participants were provided with a smart blister pack that synchronized with a web portal and recorded each time a participant opened a blister to take medications. They then interviewed the participants to assess their experience with the smart blister package.

“Across participants, we found fairly consistent pros and cons to the technology,” said Tejal Patel, a pharmacy professor and co-author of the study. “The ability to learn the product easily was important for the participants to use it consistently. Feedback from their social circle – such as supportive children, partners or health-care providers – also helped reinforce using the technology.”

In general, participants who were more comfortable with technology were more open to using and liking the smart blister pack. However, device size and lack of portability were a significant downside, and if the product behaved inconsistently – sending reminders one day but not another, for example – participants became frustrated. Participants also said that cost could be a significant barrier to use.

“For technology to be effective, it has to be accepted by the end-users,” Faisal said. “Smart, technology-based adherence products have the potential to support patients, but healthcare providers should assess older adults’ medication intake behaviours and barriers and facilitators to using a product before recommending them.”