January 05, 2021 | 5min read
Smart Solutions for Medical Adherence—Interview with Pilloxa
Embedded system involves dedicated hardware and software which runs on that hardware. It is embedded—as the name suggests—in the physical device, meant to solve one specific problem of the tech environment. You can find embedded systems in smart watches, cars, GoPros…even your coffee machine. Of course, those embedded systems differ in terms of complexity and each project will have specific needs the embedded systems may or may not meet. Pro tip: when working on embedded systems, the best approach is to start with hardware. Using that hardware to test firmware will ensure better results. If you’d like to learn more about embedded systems, our Lead Software Engineer Maciej goes into more tech and business details here.
The medical device connectivity market is expected to reach $33.5 billion in 2019—jumping from $3.5 billion in 2012. With the growth of the older generation, and the rise of new technologies and medical solutions, it’s no surprise that a lot of smart healthcare startups are finding their place in the market. Today we talk to Pilloxa.
Check out our conversation about their solution, the threats of medical non-adherence, and how technology can help save lives.
Pilloxa is a smart pillbox, connected to a mobile app. The problem that we’re addressing is adherence to medication. The non-adherence causes hundreds of thousands of deaths a year and billions in hospital costs. We spend a lot of time and money on developing new drugs, yet a big number of patients forget to take them. For example, when it comes to cancer, about 50% of people on oral chemotherapy don’t take their medicine as prescribed. This is the issue Pilloxa is trying to solve.
When it comes to similar solutions, they usually send a notification to your phone, reminding you every day to take the medicine. Overtime, your brain gets used to it and stops noticing the notifications. At Pilloxa, we only want to send you a reminder when you forget to take the pill. The pillbox has built-in sensors, that sense if there’s a pill in each compartment or not. If there’s no pill, then the app assumes you took it and won’t push any notification. However, if it’s time to take your medicine and it’s still inside the compartment, the app will keep reminding you to take your dose.
Over time, we found other factors that add up to poor medical adherence—it’s not only about being forgetful but also lacking motivation. This is why the app offers gamification—we show how well the users are taking their medication using graphs and weekly summaries. We give them specific information about their sickness and medicine so that they know what does the drug do for them, helping them stay on track.
We began working with therapeutic areas where medical adherence is of utmost importance, like oncology, cardiology, and transplantation. We also have beta users in a variety of therapeutic areas. We cover the whole spectrum of patients.
As I mentioned before, studies indicate that patients show only 50% of adherence to medication. However, our data group has about 90%! We have several clinical trials running using Pilloxa, so we will have more data soon.
Our system consists of four main parts. We have an app (developed in React Native) that communicates via Bluetooth with the pillbox. The pillbox also communicates via a mobile network with our backend. The fourth part is a dashboard/admin user interface. For example, if you’re running a clinical trial as a clinician, then you can use the dashboard to check the patients’ data. It’s all anonymous of course.
Probably the most challenging part was making BLE work properly on both Android and iOS, especially since we were developing the stack natively. When it comes to connectivity things get complicated, especially with mobile apps.
Hearing about your recent strategic partnership with Bayer and Novartis, what are your plans for the future?
We’re currently rolling out these partnerships with major pharma companies and adding a few therapeutic areas; unfortunately, I can’t talk about them yet. We’ll continue doing the same thing but in a much larger scale, offering our product to additional clients.
We get approached by different consultants pretty much all the time. However, when Polidea got in touch, I actually recognized your name because we have been checking out one of your BLE libraries. I thought, “oh, these guys actually know Bluetooth very well”. By then, we’ve had some not very successful collaborations with other software agencies, but we decided to give Polidea a chance.
Honestly, it depends on what your core business is. It’s a very strategic choice—if your main business is strictly about software (providing apps, backend, data etc.) then you can’t really outsource it. But for other aspects of the product that are not part of your core business, it makes perfect sense to seek an external tech partner. Like in our case, we have had a great use of Polidea assisting us in developing the firmware for the Pillbox.
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