The system concept for CuePath’s sensor-monitored blister packaging for dispensing medications. (photo from CuePath)
When blister pack medication dispensing came onto the market years ago, it was hoped that it would solve the issue of people not taking their medication on time. However, while this plastic packaging method has become commonplace, people are still forgetting to take their medicine.
One Vancouver-based start-up has come up with a solution. CuePath Innovation is creating a sensor that monitors when each blister pack is opened – connecting the sensor to care providers wirelessly. CuePath’s Jeff Nider is charged with marketing the concept.
Nider grew up primarily in Richmond. “My late father, who passed away in 2014, was a pharmacist and he had a number of different pharmacies in the Vancouver area over the years,” he told the Independent. “I grew up in and out of the pharmacy – working with my bubbie, manning the cash register, or pre-packaging medications for nursing home customers. That’s where I spent most of my summers, working in the pharmacy with my father.”
Nider earned his degree in biology at the University of British Columbia, and then his father asked him to manage one of the pharmacy locations. When they came across the blister pack technology, which makes the administering of medications more safe, they jumped at the chance.
“At the time, we had one nursing home client, and so we saw a future for the technology and decided to purchase the machine required to package it,” said Nider. “At this point, I started my sales career, going and selling … to basically convince … nursing homes to allow us to be their pharmacy provider.
“Each nursing home needs to have a single pharmacy provider for all of their residents. So, we had this technology along with some other software…. We were able to grow the business from one nursing home client to over 40, representing 1,700 residents.”
In 2012, they sold their business to a Toronto-based company and Nider stayed on as the business development manager for Western Canada. Last summer, Nider left that role after having been introduced to CuePath Innovation.
“It’s a start-up for monitoring medication for seniors living at home and in retirement communities,” he said about CuePath. “Based on the expertise I had in the pharmacy and geriatrics business, it made sense to me to get involved. So, I was approached to be essentially the third employee of the company, aside from the two co-founders, who have no pharmacy backgrounds … to take it from an idea and approve the concept through pilots and its commercial launch, which will happen in the second quarter of this year.”
CuePath’s sensor monitors each individual cell of the pack and indicates whether or not a person has broken the seal.
“We also provide an alert for seniors at home, when it’s time to take their medications,” said Nider. “If they don’t take them by the appropriate time, a text message will be sent to [a] family member, so they can call and remind the family member to take them.
“If you’re an 85-year-old woman living alone, your daughter might be in Toronto or Winnipeg and have no idea what’s happening – worrying about whether or not you’re taking your meds on time, because there’s a bunch of stats on our website in respect of medication adherence: less than 50% of medications are taken as prescribed, and 22% of nursing home admissions are a result of non-adherence to medication. So, it’s very important that people take their medications the way they’re prescribed and at the right time.”
According to Nider, in some cases, just before care providers come each week, seniors will punch out all the medication in the blister pack that they have forgotten to take during the week. Therefore, everything might appear to be fine when, in actuality, it is not.
“This happens because they know you come every Sunday,” said Nider. “So, on Saturday, they go and punch out the whole card. When you come, everything looks like it’s been taken – but, it’s been taken out the day before and flushed down the toilet.”
Nider pointed out that the CuePath sensor monitors the punching of the plastic only – it does not monitor whether or not the medication was ingested. Though that addition is on the horizon.
The CuePath technology is a clip on a Bluetooth transmitter connected to the back of the blister pack. “Basically, it’s a label that the pharmacist applies to the back, which has some conductive materials in it to send the transmission as to whether or not those have been opened,” said Nider.
The service has a monthly fee and an initial hardware cost but, considering the alternative – paying a care provider to administer the medication – it is much more affordable, according to Nider.
“It runs around $30 a month; $200 for the initial gateway hardware cost,” he said. “There’s a bunch of different models right now. We are still in pilot stages, running various pilots in various forms in different retirement communities.
“In a lot of ways, this will help you avoid needing to get a caregiver and finding a time when a caregiver is necessary. We’ve seen that medications are indicators of other things as well. So, if people are taking their medications on time, they’re probably able to manage many of the other tasks, too. But, as soon as they start to slip with taking them on time, it’s usually a good indication that they may not be able to manage their cooking, they may not be doing their laundry…. It also puts them at a higher risk for falls and other issues if they aren’t taking their medications properly. It’s a good indication that now’s the time to hire a caregiver. It gives you data to what is actually going on with the senior.”
The CuePath gateway unit does not need an internet connection, as it connects to the cellular network. Each gateway comes with three Bluetooth clip transmitters that will be rotated with the pharmacy. The app that accompanies the device allows caregivers access to statistics in terms of percentage of medications taken on time and other data.
“You can see how this month compares to last month,” said Nider. “Then, this information can be printed out and brought to the physician’s office … shared with the pharmacy … so they have the information.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.