Technology News

MAY 24, 2011

Rethinking Pill Packaging
Just as medications enable seniors to live longer, healthier lives, they also make independent living more complicated. Managing a complex dosing regimen that includes multiple medications is a challenge that can land older patients in a nursing home before they’re ready.

A study published in the February issue of The American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy suggests that a simple change in how medications are packaged, coupled with counseling to address medication-related issues, can delay or avoid nursing home admissions entirely, helping seniors stay in their homes longer.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina found that a pharmacy-based calendar card dispensing system, when incorporated as part of a medication therapy management program, reduced the likelihood of nursing home admission by 66%.

For the study, researchers used Medicine-On-Time, a distribution system that packages all of a patient’s pills on a single calendar card. Each compartment contains a day’s worth of medications, eliminating the stacks of prescription containers that tend to pile up when age-related diseases reach their peak.

Of the 1073 nursing home–eligible patients included in the study, 273 used the Medicine-On-Time system. Patients in this group also consulted with a health educator to resolve any problems with their medications. The intervention was successful—patients in the control group were nearly 3 times more likely to be admitted to a nursing home. “Medication plays a central role in patients’ therapies,” said lead researcher Richard M. Schulz, PhD.

“Medication management systems, such as the one used in this study, can improve patients’ lives and well-being while reducing admissions to nursing homes, which has a far-reaching economic impact,” he said.

Patients Donate Data to Fuel Health Research
As chronic disease patients flock to online communities for support, the practice of “data-swapping” among those who share a diagnosis is becoming more common. At the same time, researchers are asking how they can leverage that data to improve chronic disease surveillance.

For a recent study, published April 27 in the journal PLoS ONE, researchers Elissa Weitzman, ScD, MSc, and Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, of the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP), held a “data donation drive.” They asked members of the diabetes social network to share information about their hemoglobin A1C status.

Using CHIP’s health record as a model, the researchers created TuAnalyze, an online application which allowed members to submit their data publicly or anonymously. The data were then aggregated and displayed in state and country maps, giving the project a strong social component and “a sense of community activism,” Dr. Mandl said.

The CHIP team found that under the right circumstances—particularly when confidentiality is assured—patients are willing to share their data. Among all TuDiabetes members who used the TuAnalyze tool, 81.4% chose to share their A1C data anonymously, whereas just 34.1% chose to display it on their personal profile.

Dr. Weitzman explained that although many patients want anonymity, they also expect “a continued research relationship” and “to learn more about their own disease.” She added that online social networks are an ideal way to facilitate that exchange, and future studies must find a way to incorporate them. “Science is changing,” Dr. Weitzman said.

CDC Invites DIY Developers to Tackle Flu
Aside from a brutal case of influenza, what could convince patients that a yearly flu vaccine is worth the effort? Mobile health enthusiasts say a slick, clever smartphone app could do the trick—and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are banking on it.

“Channel your inner geek to fight the flu” was the agency’s message to Twitter followers last April, when it officially launched the CDC Flu App Challenge. The event is coordinated through the US General Services Administration’s project, which asks citizens to find solutions to government problems.

Open to anyone, the competition welcomes do-it-yourself developers to create mobile- and Web-friendly solutions that use CDC flu data to raise awareness and influence public behavior. The winners will be rewarded with cash prizes up to $15,000 and the chance to have their creations featured on the CDC Web site.

To qualify, apps must be designed for the Web, a personal computer, a handheld mobile device, or “any platform broadly accessible to the open Internet” and make use of at least 1 of 8 CDC flu data sets. The data sets include statistics on vaccine coverage and weekly flu activity in addition to patient-focused educational resources on how to prevent and manage influenza.

The rules encourage applicants to “mash up CDC data with any other publicly-accessible data feeds” and to “be creative” in advancing CDC’s public health goals. Submissions are due May 27, 2011, and the winners will be announced June 8. For more information, visit

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