Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We've made the zeitgeist

Stephen Colbert "does" medication adherence. (Starts at about 3:26)

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Stephen's sponsor, Prescott Pharmaceuticals, has invented a medication adherence robot. If you don't take your pills, it disables you with an unbearable hypersonic ululation and shoots pills into your mouth out of it's left arm.

Stephen is riffing on a real product which I'm surprised hasn't gone commercial even sooner. Grandpa's pill bottle has a computer chip in the cap that's connected to the Internet. If Grandpa doesn't open the bottle when he's supposed to, it sets off a flashing light; if he still doesn't open the bottle, it makes a robo-call to his cell phone.

This puts together technologies that have been used for a while in research studies and intervention trials, so I don't know why it took so long for somebody to put it all together and try to make money. But Stephen's intuition that this probably doesn't work very well, and that there is something Orwellian and oppressive about it, is pretty well grounded. There are people who really, really want to take their pills on time but just forget, and something like this might do the trick for them. However, there are also lots of people who for one reason or another don't really want to take the pills, or don't want to take them all the time, or don't want to take them badly enough to put up with a computer yelling at them, whatever they might happen to be doing at the time.

Let's face it: taking pills, especially if you have to take a bunch of them, forever, can be a pain in the gazongas. Side effects or no, lots of people just don't like to do it. It's a constant message to yourself that you're sick, there's something wrong with you. You can't help but worry that it's putting stress and strain on your body to keep pumping in these powerful chemicals. And you have to either be in the right place at the right time, or else remember to take them with you, and maybe you don't actually know that you'll be out of the house at 8:00 pm tonight but you end up somewhere else and then the phone rings and the damn computer is lecturing you . . .

In other words this problem doesn't really have a technical fix. We have to look a little deeper.

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