Summary:

Building a connected pill bottle used to require a cellular connection and a monthly service fee. But a European startup shows us how to build one using Bluetooth with an optional service fee.

pharmassistantdemo

PharmAssistant, a Portuguese startup, has brought Bluetooth to the connected pill bottle. The company is taking pre-orders for a $30 pill bottle that connects with an app to tell you when you need to take your meds and help others track your compliance.

SmatBottleGiven the demands of remote caregivers and the challenges associated with remembering to take medicines, the market seems ripe for such a product. Yet, the most notable other entry into this category was the Glow Cap pill topper from Vitality, which had a price tag of $10 per cap and a $15 monthly service fee.

The up-front cost of the PharmAssistant bottles is higher, at $30 per bottle and it has an optional monthly service fee of $5 per month or $50 per year if you want to remotely monitor someone’s compliance. Yet there are several factors that make this device more modern and indicate why now is the right time for the internet of things to really take off.

  1. There’s no need for a data plan. The PharmAssistant product doesn’t require an external data plan from a wireless operator. Instead, the bottle uses a Bluetooth radio to communicate with a person’s smartphone and with the internet. The net result is that someone doesn’t have to subscribe to a high monthly service fee if they don’t want to monitor someone, and if they do, it’s still cheaper because you aren’t paying for the operator data plan.
  2. It’s as mobile as your smartphone. The GlowCaps require a hub that’s disguised as the reminder light in the home, and for the service to offer reminders it must be in contact with the hub. So while traveling, the GlowCap products can store data but they can’t offer service. Since the PharmAssistant relies on the smartphone, it works when it’s near the handset or when it comes back in contact with the handset.
  3. It is smarter through access to a larger ecosystem. The bottles also connect to database of medications and can offer you a drug interaction warning if you have all your pills hooked up to the app and it determines that some items shouldn’t be taken together. Eventually it could tie into your pharmacy and automatically call in refills (the GlowCap offers this service). That’s a big benefit of having the service pull information to the cloud where it can be shared easily.
  4. There’s an optional services component. The optional $5 monthly fee showcases the flexibility that today’s connected devices can offer manufacturers. First, they sell the hardware. But then they can use their always-on connection to the customer to share data for a fee or to use the data it gathers about the person to build a layer of services it can offer back to the customers or perhaps even to other providers (a doctor or your pharmacy in this case)
  5. .

There’s no reason the AT&T connected GlowCap couldn’t offer some of these services, but the cost of connectivity and the limits of the cellular radio may make them more expensive. It doesn’t have to be this way. Connected pill bottles don’t need the new LTE connectivity to work, they can use older 3G technologies that have been deployed for years are already paid off as it were. That data could be delivered far more cheaply if carriers wanted to innovate on price.

I think also, the shift to being able to develop products outside the influence of mobile operators has led entrepreneurs to think more flexibly when it comes to their revenue options and services. This could be good and bad. For example, an operator might push a company to think more about privacy and security.

So while I think there will always be a place for products that will use cellular networks for connectivity, I think that number is rapidly shrinking. And that’s good for innovation and for consumer wallets. PharmAssistant plans on shipping the bottles in December.

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