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The Present Bias Problem with Medication Adherence

Posted on November 29, 2017 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I recently met Matthew Loper, the founder of a startup company called Wellth. The company is using behavioral economics to improve healthcare outcomes. They’re literally paying patients cold hard cash to take their medications. Plus, they have some pretty cool technology that uses just the smart phone to track medication adherence.

I must admit that I’ve seen hundreds of medication compliance companies over the years. While the approach each took was intriguing, all of them seemed to have some major obstacle to adoption. Some were too expensive. Some would never be adopted by patients. Some would never be adopted by healthcare providers, etc.

With this in mind, I was intrigued by a few slides that Matthew Loper from Wellth showed me about the medication adherence market and why the startups in that space have had limited success to date. First, he started off with this slide which illustrated the problem:

I’m not sure I agree totally with the concept of chronic patients not doing what’s rational. Instead, I think this slide illustrates that many chronic patients make short term versus long term decisions when it comes to their care. No doubt these short term decisions are very rational decisions in their minds. However, this data illustrates the Present Bias problem we have with medication adherence.

Matthew’s next slide illustrated really well how most current medication adherence solutions don’t solve the present bias problem:

I thought this slide categorized the medication adherence companies I’ve seen really well. It also explains why most of them aren’t very effective. Then, Matthew went on to suggest that paying patients to adhere to their care plan does overcome the Present Bias challenge:

You can talk with Wellth if you want to get more details on their work and the results of their pilots. It’s still early in their journey, but the concept seems to be producing some quality results. Plus, I love their efforts to use the cash incentive long enough to create a habit which then is sustained well after the payments stop. Pretty fascinating approach.

No doubt there are a lot more complexities associated with medication adherence. For example, this approach doesn’t take into account people who are motivated by money. However, it’s surprising how even rich people want to get a good deal. It will also take some time to see how much money is required to truly motivate someone to be compliant and if that cost is less that the amount of money saved. Not to mention, how do you even quantify how much money was saved when someone is more adherent to their care plan.

These challenges aren’t unique to Wellth, but to every healthcare IT solution working on this problem. It’s also why many of them have a hard time making the case for their solution. Turns out that purchasers of these solutions have a present bias problem as well. However, as more studies are done and as we get better at tracking a patient’s health, we’ll better be able to understand the long term benefits of things like medication adherence.

What do you think of Wellth’s approach to medication adherence? Should we be paying patients when they adhere to their care plan?

Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Posted on February 28, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is CoFounder and CEO of Pristine, a VC backed company based in Austin, TX that builds software for Google Glass for healthcare, life sciences, and industrial environments. Pristine has over 30 healthcare customers. Kyle blogs regularly about business, entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare at

There are an enormous number of startups trying to solve the medication adherence problem. Broadly speaking, these startups are trying to solve the problem through three avenues:

1) Hardware, i.e. smart pill bottles

2) Semi-intelligent software driven reminders

3) Patient education

The most effective solutions are likely to incorporate all three.

The hardware space has been the most interesting simply because of the variety of solutions cropping up. AdhereTech and CleverCap have developed unique pill bottles that control and monitor dispensing via proprietary smart pill bottles. They also incorporate software for notifications. Unfortunately, all smart pill bottle makers are bounded by FDA regulations because they physically control medications through a combination of hardware and software. FDA regulations will slow time rollout of these solutions to market and create enormous new expense.

I recently learned about PillPack, a startup that just raised $4M. They compete asymmetrically in the medication adherence by not making any hardware at all!

The problem with the pill bottle is that there are dozens of pills in a single container. Measuring and controlling output and consumption is intrinsically a difficult problem. PillPack solves these problems by simply averting the issue entirely. PillPack pre-packs pills by dose. This is particularly valuable because they pre-pack multiple kinds of medications that need to be taken at the same time.

PillPack doesn’t yet have any intelligent software that monitors when medications are taken. But with granular packaging, sensing and controlling the medications becomes dramatically easier than ever before. I suspect this will the marquee feature of PillPack 2.0. Once they add the ability to detect when a pack is opened, they can begin adding intelligent software alerts and reminders to patients and their families.

PillPack has a far more lucrative distribution strategy than companies who have to produce and distribute hardware. PillPack can scale their customer base incredibly quickly through B2C marketing. B2C marketing isn’t easy; Pillpack faces a significant challenge in terms of patient and provider education, but it’s one that’s definitely addressable. If PillPack’s service is as good as I think it is, they should develop incredibly happy customers, which will lead to recurring revenues and strong referrals.

The moment I saw Pillpack, I immediately recognized it as one of those “duh” business. We’re going to look back in 10 years and wonder why this wasn’t always around. Their solution solves so many of the pain points around taking medications on time and is coupled with a lucrative business model that feeds off of recurring revenues from long term customers.

The genius of their business is that they are tackling the medication adherence problem from a unique angle: packaging and distribution. They’ve bundled that solution into a simple and elegant package (pun intended) that helps patients avoid the pain of the modern US healthcare system: going to the pharmacy, fighting with the pharmacist, and manually tracking when to take how much of each medication.

Full disclosure: I have no relationship(s) with PillPack.

The Good News About Patient Portals …

Posted on January 14, 2014 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

I recently wrote that it’s not clear whether patient portals do much to improve health care.

Now a new study suggests they help in at least one area: medication adherence.

The research involved diabetic patients who were using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs and had registered for online portal access. Among those who started using the system’s online refill function as their only method of getting the medication, “nonadherence” dropped 6 percent.

LDL or “bad” cholesterol also decreased.

The researchers concluded that “wider adoption of online refills may improve adherence.” No decline in nonadherence was seen in patients who didn’t use the online refill function.

The Kaiser Permanente study was published in the journal Medical Care.

The study included plenty of subjects — 8,705 people who used online refills and 9,055 who didn’t. But if there’s a cause-effect relationship at work in this study, you have to wonder in which direction it might run. Might the people who tend to take their medicine as prescribed be more likely to sign up for online refills in the first place?

Still, the study is an intriguing hint that patient portals might be worth at least some of the attention they’re getting. Nonadherence to medication regimens is a huge issue for health care because of both the human toll it takes and the inefficiency it fosters in the system.

Typical nonadherence rates are in the 30-60 percent range, depending on the condition, the medication and other factors, according to Medscape. It’s especially easy to slack off when symptoms disappear.

The study builds on another piece of good news for health IT. Researchers recently found that EMRs can make diabetes care better by rendering care coordination more efficient, as Katherine Rourke wrote here at EMR and HIPAA.

Portals are, of course, experiencing tremendous popularity because they help health care providers to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 patient-engagement requirements. But, as I wrote earlier, in a review of 46 studies related to portals, researchers didn’t find evidence for much in the way of patient benefits.

Physicians have a major job ahead of them if they’re to make full use of patient portals and receive the available federal incentives. Perhaps this study, modest as its results are, suggests that their efforts will have some benefit for the patients they serve.