NEW YORK — "Hi! This is your aspirin bottle calling. I haven't seen you in a while. Why don't you come see me soon? I'm good for the heart, you know."
That's the spirit, if not the wording, of the calls that will come from new pill bottle caps that connect to AT&T Inc.'s wireless network.
A Cambridge, Mass.-based startup called Vitality Inc. was set to announce the pill-bottle system Thursday, saying it helps solve one of the biggest problems in medicine: that people don't consistently take the drugs they're prescribed.
That costs the U.S. $290 billion in added medical spending each year, according to a study published in August by the New England Healthcare Institute. Mortality rates are twice as high among diabetes and heart disease patients who don't take their pills properly, it said.
With Vitality's system, when a pill-bottle cap is opened, it uses a close-range wireless signal to tell a base station in the home. That station, which looks like a night light, essentially has a cell phone inside that can send messages through AT&T's network.
If the bottle isn't opened at the appointed time, the cap and night light start blinking to remind the owner to take the medication. If that doesn't serve as enough of a hint, they start playing jingles as well. If the bottle stays unopened, the night light will send a message to Vitality's system, which can then place an automated phone call or send a text message with a reminder.
That points to another possibility opened by the wireless bottle cap: making the pill-taking routine more than just a matter between the patient and the bottle. Vitality's system can be set to alert a relative if someone isn't taking medicine.
"The social aspect of this is important," Vitality CEO David Rose said. "Almost every successful behavior change program, the academics will tell you, involves social dynamics, whether it's smoking cessation or Weight Watchers."
A price for the new system hasn't been disclosed. Vitality hopes insurance and drug companies will get on board with the system and cover the cost.
Vitality has been selling an earlier version of the product in small numbers from its Web site for $99. In that version, the night light doesn't contain a cell phone. Instead it connects to a third piece of hardware, a "gateway" plugged into a home's Internet router. But not all homes have routers, and configuring them can be tricky. The AT&T-powered night light simplifies the installation.
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