Fingerprint Recognition Locks: The New Anti-Theft Mechanism for Pill Bottles?

The healthcare industry is a massive sector catering to billions of people worldwide. It has a large patient base across a multitude of diagnoses and conditions at an international level. With such colossal numbers, it becomes practically impossible to ensure that there is no misuse or abuse of the drugs being prescribed by credible healthcare workers. And events recorded by organizations do point out that indeed, the problem of incorrect or inappropriate drug usage is widely prevalent.

The problem of kids or strangers messing up with your drug prescription or misuse of your medication drugs has been of grave concern. As per US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been nearly 44,000 cases of drug overuse or misuse annually in the US. Also, there are 16,000 deaths resulting from prescription drugs. Another statistic from federal officials says that at least 5% of prescribed drugs were ingested by someone else other than the person to whom it was prescribed. If we correlate this figure with the 259 million prescriptions written out by healthcare workers for just painkillers in the US in 2012, the resulting number is a pretty huge one to contend with.

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These numbers are enough to rally massive investment into resources, money, R&D, and time, to come up with a successful countermeasure to avoid drug misuse, abuse, and overdose.

Current mitigation measures

1. Personal pill safe

John Hopkins University students, Megan Carney, Joseph Hajj, Joseph Heaney, and Welles Sakmar have come up with a Pill Safe that allows for the safekeeping of medications and prevention of misuse of incorrect drug ingestion. The system is anti-theft, tamper-resistant, and can be refilled only by a validated person (healthcare practitioner, doctor or pharmacist).

The vision for this concept was explained beautifully by one of the mentors for the project — Dr. Kavi Bhalla. He said “We needed this personal pill ‘safe’ to have tamper resistance, personal identification capabilities, and a locking mechanism that allows only a pharmacist to load the device with pills”

USP of Pill Safe

The device weighs 1.16 kilos and is 9.25 inches tall. Two key USPs drive the veracity of its claims to be the perfect counter for theft, misuse or illegal prescriptions –

1. Super tough steel alloy — Its body is made of aircraft grade steel material that lends it tremendous durability against attempts to break open the device. So any effort to attack it with a drill, hammer it, or stab it with a sharp object will not have any effect on it.

2. Fingerprint validation — The sensor mounted on the device scans the user’s fingerprint to validate the credibility of the patient as well as the person refilling the device with medication pills.

It ensures that the working is in line with convenience expectations of both the patients as well as the pharmacists.

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1. For Patients — The patient has to scan his/her fingerprint. This engages the internal mechanism of the device that has a cartridge pre-filled with the due dosage of the pill. By verifying the fingerprint to be correct, a disc rotates to take the pill from the pre-filled cartridge and then transfer it to the exit pathway. From this pathway, the pill lands to a surface where the patient can see that the pill has been dispensed. By tilting the device, the user can take the pill from the surface onto his/her hands. This mechanism ensures three key advantages for the patient –

  1. Only the correct user gets the pill. This addresses the pill misuse issue
  2. The pill gets dispensed at only the correct time of dosage intervals. This addresses the pill abuse issue
  3. Only the correct amount of pill(s) get dispensed. This addresses the overdose issue

2. For Pharmacists — The team got the device tested thoroughly from the on-campus pharmacists at the John Hopkins campus. This ensured that there is no dip in the user experience when the pill is being refilled, loaded, unlocked, or locked.

Once the team received the go-ahead from the pharmacists, they added another layer of validation of the device’s security. They challenged students to try and break into the device and access the medication. The range of tools used included a hammer, power drill, and hacksaw. But they couldn’t access the device contents.

The latest on this one is that it is pending a proposal at National Institutes of Health (NIH) to take the steps needed to transition from an experimental device, to a working prototype. If all goes well, it will be made available for general consumer usage, as a part of the initiative focusing on consumer product safety.

2. Fingerprint recognition locks — TAD

Another set of innovation around secure pill dispensing mechanisms and medical device technology is coming up fast. At the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit March 28–31, Atlanta, the world caught the first glimpse of TAD (Take As Directed) — a device that introduces technology to address the growing menace of opiate abuse and drug misuse. As a possible immediate result, prescription opiates will be kept out of reach of teenagers and kids within the house, it will also come in handy in case any stranger tries to break in and get away with prescription drugs meant only for the patient’s consumption.

With the help of this technological breakthrough, the patients themselves can manage their prescription schedules without worrying about missing their dosage or inadvertently taking an incorrect amount of pills contrary to what was prescribed to them. Barring the access to the medication to everyone except to the patient doesn’t mean that regular refilling and change of drug to be added has to be a tedious affair.

The device developed by Intent Solutions was launched by its President and Director, Sam Zamarripa. Speaking on the occasion he said, “Prescription drug abuse is now at a boiling point, having recently replaced auto accidents as the leading cause of injury-related death in the US. But there’s been little talk of how emerging technology can improve the way medications are managed and dispensed while also reducing misuse, abuse, and diversion”. Elaborating on the influence of technology on healthcare, Sam mentions “Technology has a role to play with better healthcare outcomes. This is taking prescription drug monitoring to the internet of things.”

At the heart of the device is a portable storage container that surrounds a disposable vial filled with the medication. This contraption is attached to an electronic device that has built in data on patient biometrics (fingerprints) and drug regimen. It employs Bluetooth, fingerprint recognition technology, and data storage on the cloud. As a result, overdoses are eliminated, illegal attempts to access the pills are obstructed, and elderly can independently manage their drug regimen for a better life.

It works on a relatively simple premise — TAD beams a reminder to the patient at the scheduled time to alert him/her that the medication has to be taken now. The patient simply has to provide fingerprint scanning to access the pills from the dispenser. The device built from military grade steel material cannot be broken or tampered, and if any such attempt is made, TAD will alert the pharmacist immediately.

What separates TAD from other similar devices available in the market is the immense health management power it gives to the user by the way of automation and real-time monitoring. This, in turn, ensures better compliance and improves safety. For Intent Solutions, the device is a good counter measure to tackle rising costs associated with non-adherence or incorrect dosage of drug regimen followed by patients.

To Conclude

The measures for prevention of drug abuse is still in a nascent stage even in a developed nation like the US. However, the government has taken cognizance of the problem and is looking at ways and means to eliminate the high costs that is accrued due to incorrect, incomplete or illegal dispensing of medications to people other than the patient who is intended to use it. With solutions like TAD, the progress towards a strong counter- measure is shaping up in the right direction. The industry authorities and federal personnel too have recognized the shortcomings and have pumped in valuable human capital and dollars at work to come up with a more stringent solution to curb this issue.

These technological innovations are just what the healthcare industry needs to gain control on prescription drug abuse and its harmful outcomes that are capable of destroying families and putting a strain of millions of dollars on the healthcare sector.

What are your views on these technology innovations touching the healthcare industry in disruptive ways? Do write to us and let us know your views in the comments box below.