Talking Pill Bottle Aims to Curb Medical Errors

Experts say as many as 20 percent of nursing home residents are only there because they don't take their medicines correctly. A new invention might help that situation. Talking pill bottles now let doctors and pharmacists give verbal instructions that you can access by pushing a button on the bottle.

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Pharmaceutical companies have a new way to make sure that you take your medicine properly. They're building on the technology that brought you talking greeting cards, as Bill Cohen reports from Ohio Public Radio.

BILL COHEN reporting:

Richard Alnat(ph) is blind. Years ago, he accidentally overdosed on medicine and later got an idea on how to make sure it never happened to him or anyone else again: a talking pill bottle. You just push a button on it.

Activated Pill Bottle Voice: Pain reliever, 100 milligrams. Take one to two capsules every four to six hours. Take with food or milk.

COHEN: A pharmacist types a prescription into a computer, software then translates the written data into a voice that's put onto a chip and attached to the bottle. With other equipment, pharmacists can record their own voice, giving instructions. Gene Franz is with MedivoxRx which makes the talking pill bottle. He says the cost to consumers would be negligible.

Mr. GENE FRANZ (MedivoxRx): If you can spend $5 on a pill bottle to save a couple of thousand dollars in an emergency room visit, everybody wins.

COHEN: According to the FDA, medication errors by consumers, doctors and pharmacists injure about 1.3 million people each year. Another part of the sales pitch for this kind of product is: It can help some blind and elderly people live independently at home. Ernie Boyd heads the Ohio Pharmacists Association.

Mr. ERNIE BOYD (Ohio Pharmacists Association): We know that 20 percent of nursing home admissions are purely because people are taking their drugs wrong.

COHEN: Another version of the talking pill bottle is made by En-Vision America. It uses a small box consumers buy for $230. When they hold medications with special labels next to it, the box talks.

Activated Box Voice: Amoxicillin, take one tablet every day.

COHEN: This system is now being offered free of charge to veterans at VA hospitals. But still, even groups for the blind report few consumers are using the bottles now. That may soon change, though, because Medicare is considering paying for the bottles and Cardinal Health, a giant pharmaceutical distributor, is now marketing them to pharmacies. Advocates for the blind expect a mushrooming demand for the talking bottles as aging boomers lose their sharp vision.

Another possible market is sighted people who simply can't read. The voices on the pill bottles can also be programmed into languages other than English.

For NPR News, I'm Bill Cohen in Columbus.

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