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Improving medication adherence with tech innovation

School of Pharmacy project pairs medication taking with new technologies to empower older adults to age in place


Medication non-adherence is a concern globally, and often occurs unknowingly or by mistake. Dr. Tejal Patel, clinical associate professor at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, is trying to improve medication management and assist older adults when taking their medication at home by correctly matching them with new innovative technologies.

Dr. Patel has received funding for her project from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Canadian Institute for Health Research-Institute of Aging (CIHR-IA) totaling more than half a million dollars.

Dr. Patel’s project is entitled Match making: Empowering older adults to age in place through matching automated medication adherence technology to ability. It focuses on how the cognitive, visual, auditory, physical, motivational and environmental barriers that older adults face impacts the use of medication adherence technology to assist with medicine taking. Her study also aims to enable health-care professionals to recommend the correct products for each patient and for clinicians to monitor medication taking at home. 

“My goal is to improve medication taking capabilities for patients at home by matching their abilities to appropriate medication technologies,” Dr. Patel says.

The mismanagement of medication taking can result when a patient is paired with the incorrect technology. Patients who are hard of hearing if paired with voice activated technologies may miss the verbal reminder to take their medication and should instead be matched with visual assisted technology.

However, patients with dementia and memory impairment might under or overtake their prescriptions if paired with an inappropriate technology due to cognitive barriers. Pairing their medication routine with the appropriate smart adherence technology may be the preferred solution because it alerts their caretaker when the medication is not taken properly.  However, how to pair product to capability is not known.

Currently there are many medication adherence devices on the market, but physicians, pharmacists, nurses and caregivers need to know which one is best for each individual patient. This grant will help Dr. Patel develop a decision-making guide for older adults, health-care professionals and their care-partners to fit each patient with the best technology suited to their needs, ultimately improving medication adherence, health outcomes and enabling older adults to stay home longer.

“If we equip patients with the tools to take their medications at home safely and properly, they won’t have to be admitted to long term care homes for safe medication use,” Dr. Patel says. “When they take their medications properly the risk of medication errors and side effects decreases, thereby improving their overall quality of life. This will have a direct positive impact on our health system.”

The joint NRC Aging in Place program and CIHR-IA funding call awarded three projects and the School of Pharmacy received one for Dr. Patel’s project. This project includes a team of collaborators: Dr. Ryan Griffin, P. Eng, National Research Council of Canada, Dr. Catherine Burns, BASc, MASc, PhD, University of Waterloo Engineering, Dr. Feng Chang, PharmD, University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, Dr. Sara Guilcher, MSc, PhD, University of Toronto Faculty of Pharmacy, and Dr. Linda Lee, MD, CFFM FHT.

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