How Prescription Alerts Work


Often, older adults need prescription alerts to help them keep track of medication schedules.
Often, older adults need prescription alerts to help them keep track of medication schedules.
Photodisc/Getty Images

"Hi, Mom. Did you remember to take your pills this afternoon?" Tracking an elderly parent's care long distance isn't easy, but it's something many adult children find themselves doing.

"Drat. I forgot again." Back from a meeting, juggling a new account, thinking about a child's science project, trying to balancing everything, it's hard to remember early afternoon medication on a week day.

Daily medications are just part of life for millions of Americans, particularly the elderly. And so is trying to remember to take those medications and have refills on hand at the right time. Prescription alerts help make that easier by reminding when it's time to take, reorder and pick up prescription drugs.

Taking two pills a day for two weeks to fight an infection isn't too difficult. But add more pills for several different conditions daily, plus a busy schedule or elderly forgetfulness, and prescription reminders make a lot of sense. Some 32 million Americans take three or more medications daily [source: American Heart Association].

Consider also that almost 80 percent of older adults live with one or more chronic conditions -- and many take several medicines at a time. But even with only one regular drug, prescription pick-up alerts can help keep that medication on hand [source: National Council on Patient Information].

Prescription alerts run the gamut from voice mail or e-notifications to specially designed watches or pagers. They can let you know when to reorder a drug, when to pick one up or when to take one -- whether you're at home or away. They can dispense only the right dose at the right time and let healthcare providers or family members know that the medication has been taken on schedule. They can even come with added features to help you manage specific conditions like diabetes or to exchange messages with your doctor.

But how do prescription alerts work? And which kind would be right for your needs? Let's start by exploring the purpose for these alerts.

The Purpose of Prescription Alerts

When people rely on prescription alerts and devices, they don't have to spend time counting out pills.
When people rely on prescription alerts and devices, they don't have to spend time counting out pills.
© Photographer: Isabel Poulen | Agency: Dreamstime

Prescription alerts can help people stick with the medication routine they need to stay healthy and keep chronic conditions under control. For most people who are basically healthy, prescription reminders are mostly a matter of convenience. You can save time and shorten a "to-do" list by having the pharmacy send e-mail reminders when a prescription refill is needed or a text message announcing a prescription pick-up time.

But for the elderly and their caregivers, keeping medication on track is a serious matter. For starters, older adults need to take the right medications in the right amount on time to manage their conditions and illnesses. But seniors may forget and skip a dose, or they may take the required dose more than once. They also may misunderstand instructions or be unable to read prescription labels. And elders may not be able to keep up with multiple reorders that are due at different times.

More seriously, mix-ups with prescription drugs can result in illness, hospitalization or death. Older adults face a greater risk of serious adverse drug events, such as falls, depression, confusion, hallucinations or malnutrition, when drugs are combined inappropriately or side effects aren't monitored.

In fact, 23 percent of all nursing home admissions are because patients didn't take prescription medications accurately, according to the American Heart Association. But 25 percent of serious adverse drug events are preventable, according to statistics from the National Council on Patient Information and Education, a consortium of consumer groups, healthcare organizations, government agencies and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Prescription alerts may provide one of the easiest forms of prevention. And that's a relief, too, for millions of adult children who want to make sure their elderly parents follow the routine they need to stay healthy. That takes in plenty of Americans. One in four U.S. households have someone at least 18 years old caring for someone over age 50, according to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) [source: AARP Magazine].

With all sorts of prescription alerts available, let's look first at some of the e-notifications and software that can provide reminders and help manage medications.

Types of Prescription Alerts

Pharmacies can send alerts to remind customers when their prescription is ready for pick up.
Pharmacies can send alerts to remind customers when their prescription is ready for pick up.
© Photographer: Natalia Bratslavsky | Agency: Dreamstime

Electronic prescription alerts can be easy to arrange. You can contact many pharmacies online to set up prescription refill and possibly prescription pick-up reminders. You can buy shareware and other software to provide prescription reminders and to manage medications. Or you can subscribe to a service that will send reminders to your PC, smartphone or other mobile device. Here are some of the options.

Pharmacy. This may be the easiest option if all you need are reminders to refill and pick up prescription drugs. Many pharmacies offer refill reminders. Once you register at the online pharmacy for CVS, for example, you can have refill reminders sent to your e-mail address along with a link for instant ordering.

Pick-up reminders are less common. However, Birmingham-based Lloyds Pharmacy send text alerts to let shoppers know when prescriptions are ready to pick up [source: TextMessenger].

Shareware. If you simply want a beep and a note when it's time to take a pill, you may not need a complex medication management system. The simplest solution may be generic reminder software like ItsTime from RKS Software. Operating on the Windows platform, including Windows Mobile, this download costs $20.

Software. Prescription alert software often comes with a medication management component. OnTimeRx provides medication and medical visit reminders, days supply alerts and refill reminders on PDAs, smartphones, laptops and PCs. It also stores medical history, medication lists, treatment dates, physician contacts and other patient information. It runs on Windows and costs $35 for combination PC-PDA software.

Reminder Services. Rather than buying software, you can choose reminder services to keep your medication taking on track.

  • Medical Assistant from TasTec Inc. is an automated telephone medication reminder service for at-home seniors. The elderly person called responds to prompts reminding a person to take medication, asking whether that was done and asking whether a refill is needed. The service also is available for smartphones and mobile devices.
  • e-pill medication reminders on pagers, mobile phones or PDAs connect with a tone or vibration and then gives a medication reminder including the name of drug, strength, description, dosage and any special instructions.
  • The Pill Phone adds dosage reminders and medication information to cell phones using The Pill Book as a drug reference. The Pill Phone gives audible and visual prompts and tracks and confirms doses taken. It's available from some wireless carriers at a rate of approximately $4 per month.
  • OnCellRx is a mobile reminder version of OnTimeRx and provides alerts for scheduling pill doses, monthly refill reminders, annual checkups, doctor appointments and other events. It works on smartphones running Windows Mobile and costs $10 per month for up to 40 minutes of voice reminders with unlimited email and pager reminders.

Maybe a prescription alert device would suit your needs better. Check the next page for some device options.

Prescription Alert Devices

Devices such as pagers remind people when to take their pills.
Devices such as pagers remind people when to take their pills.
Image courtesy of epill

If you're choosing among prescription alert devices, you have plenty of options. Probably the simplest prescription alerts are alarms or dispensers with alarm functions. Beyond that, you can take some prescription reminders with you in the form of watch- or pager-like devices. While some of these may provide prescription refill reminders and store patient information, most focus on making sure medications are take on time in the right dosage.

Here are examples of different kinds of alert devices for prescription drugs.

  • Medication alarm timers from e-pill can be set to sound up to 37 times daily with alarms lasting up to four minutes and a small screen showing a "Missed pill?" message. They range in price from $25 to $50 and in size from pocket to pillbox size, including one with a refrigerator magnet.
  • The MedCenter System combines a month's worth of daily pill containers with a digital clock. A talking alarm alerts the user to take medication up to six times daily. The pill organizer and reminder costs $70.
  • The Timex Daily Medication Manager combines a seven-day pillbox and digital clock with a talking, visual or sound alarm up to four times a day. It's pocket-sized and costs about $30.
  • The MeDose watch from e-pill adds six daily medication reminders (vibrating or sound) and a stopwatch and costs $100. Cadex watches, also from e-pill, provide 12 daily sound and text reminders, repeating every three minutes until the medication is taken. The Cadex watches also store medical emergency information and cost $80 to $90.
  • The MedReady device provides sound or light reminders and dispenses a single pill each time from a locked pill case. The unit switches to battery operation during power outages, and caregivers can receive daily reports via the Internet. The device costs about $170, or $230 with the Internet reports.
  • The MD.2 automatic pill dispenser from e-pill pairs a voice alarm with a dispensing system to dispense just one pill at a time on schedule. The user pushes a button to access the pill. Pills can be dispensed six times a day from 60 medication cups. A caregiver is notified by phone if the user isn't taking his medication and when the device needs to be refilled. The cost is about $750 plus $30 a month for monitoring and Internet access to the dispensing log.
  • ALRT Technologies' Constant Health Companion reminds the user with a beeping sound to take medications and then gives specific instructions on an LCD screen. The unit stores medical history and physician contact information and can be programmed by a doctor or family member. A remote monitoring subscription option lets a physician or caregiver monitor medication-taking data and send messages to the user. The device costs $100 with monitoring at $30 per month.

As Baby Boomers age and Internet and medical technologies advance, more sophisticated prescription alert systems will undoubtedly be developed. Intel's Health Research Group, for example, is testing a context aware medication prompting system that syncs up several devices -- like wristwatches, phone and television -- to remind seniors in several ways to take their medications.

For lots more information about prescription alerts and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

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