A startup originally accelerated within Ideo, PillPack is an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day.

You don't have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, or refills; PillPack takes care of all that for you.

All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what's inside when it tells you to.

Once you've signed up, PillPack will assemble your medication, presorting the medicines into individually sealed packets lined up chronologically; any interim medication you need while your first PillPack is being assembled is mailed overnight. You get new PillPacks every two weeks.

When you get your first shipment, all you do is tear off the first packet and swallow the pills inside at the date and time printed on the front. New PillPacks are automatically sent to you when you need them; four weeks before your last scheduled refill of a prescription, PillPack's pharmacists will follow up with your doctor for a renewal.

Co.Design

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A truly idiot-proof way to remember to take your meds.

Take all of the pills in your medicine cabinet that you have to track—the prescription drugs you need to remember to take two or three times a day, the multivitamins and fish liver pills you're not sure make a difference—and imagine that instead of all coming in separate bottles, they came packaged together in a pre-assorted, chronological ticker tape of medicine. Instead of keeping track of which medicines you need to take at which time, you just tear off a square packet from the roll and swallow all the pills inside.

This is the idea behind PillPack, a new service out of Somerville, Massachusetts, that aims to be the Amazon Prime of prescription medication.

A startup originally accelerated within Ideo, PillPack is an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day. You don't have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, or refills; PillPack takes care of all that for you. All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what's inside when it tells you to.

The system PillPack uses isn't new. Long-term care facilities have been getting medicine for their patients in easy-to-distribute, presorted rolls for years to make life easier for nurses who have to juggle the confusing motley of medications taken by dozens of patients multiple times per day.

That system never really broke out of the old folks' home until now. PillPack's CEO and co-founder T.J. Parker was inspired to start PillPack when his father—the owner of a long-term care pharmacy in Concord, New Hampshire—got swarmed with requests by friends and neighbors, who caught wind of the rolls of medication he was making for local medical facilities and started clamoring for him to put together pill packs for them, too.

What makes the PillPack system so well designed is how idiot-proof it is. Getting started on PillPack is as easy as transferring your existing subscriptions from your local pharmacy: according to PillPack, the process takes less than five minutes. Once you've signed up, PillPack will assemble your medication, presorting the medicines into individually sealed packets lined up chronologically; any interim medication you need while your first PillPack is being assembled is mailed overnight. You get new PillPacks every two weeks. When you get your first shipment, all you do is tear off the first packet and swallow the pills inside at the date and time printed on the front. New PillPacks are automatically sent to you when you need them; four weeks before your last scheduled refill of a prescription, PillPack's pharmacists will follow up with your doctor for a renewal.

A great deal of thought went into the design of the packets themselves. Parker says that it was important not to overload patients with extraneous information: the whole point of the system is that the only thing a patient should have to worry about taking their meds is the date and time printed on each pack. Each packet is clearly printed with the medications inside. A label on the dispenser has images of the pill, with the name and instructions, so it's easy to know exactly what you're taking.

For now, PillPack is focusing on getting medicine to as many people's doors as possible—they still need pharmacy licensing in 19 states—but there's a lot of possibility for leveraging the data they have on patients to improve the PillPack experience. A dedicated app, says Parker, is the obvious next step, but there's also lot of excitement at PillPack about how they could integrate their service with future wearables such as the iWatch or Google Glass, such as by alerting customers when they haven't taken their pills.

PillPack works with most major insurance plans, and costs $20 per month on top of existing co-pays. At that price, says Parker, the service makes most sense for patients who take more than five pills a month, but even if you just need help remembering the aspirin a day, PillPack can help you keep the doctor away.

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20 Comments

  • McKay Savage

    Great concept and surely very helpful, but I'm not sure "idiot proof" is a fair title. This system doesn't address my biggest challenge of remembering to take that med packet (whether one pill or many) at the designated time during busy workdays or lazy weekends where I don't wrap my own life in pre-packaged schedules. I'd love to hear if there are any plans for a linked app (or an integration with an existing app solution) to ensure people take their packages at the right time.

  • Elaine Gruenke

    Please please tell me all the packs are recyclable?? Though a great idea, if this just introduces a bunch more excess waste to the environment, I think it needs to be re-thought until it's sustainable (I would expect no less form IDEO). Also wonder what happens when your dosages change, or are variable?

  • Walgreens' DailyMed (previously owned by Arcadia) has the same concept with a bunch of more complementary services. This idea has been around for a couple of years before PillPack...

  • Sally Brown

    There might be something to the concept, but in an era of drug insurance, 90 day + refills, and discount drugs, the possible convenience would simply not be worth the cost except in a niche market, such as nursing homes or rehab facilities.

  • You can just see the catastrophic consequences when the mixture of tablets in one pouch get messed up or a doctor modifies a prescription dose on one of the 4 tablets when you haven;t finished the pouches - at least when they're in individual packs/bottles you kind of know what they are!

    I note the father is a pharmacist. did he not talk to him? Did he not speak to patients who take these mixture of tablets for a number of years and know the likely complications? It's another of those flawed concepts that looks all so lovely jubbly in a design stupio

  • I dont get the impression this has been designed by somebody who knows much about pharmaceutical science (interesting mix of naming conventions on the photos!), legal issues or indeed what it's like to actually take multiple tablets per day - This just wouldn't work.

  • One of the problems that seems immediately obvious to me is losing all the information that comes on your pill bottle. The warnings, expiration date, how many refills you have left, etc. There's a reason all of that info is on the bottle where you'll always have it on hand.

  • McKay Savage

    If that's a desired use, one idea would be for the company (hopefully listening in on this thread) to make the box itself custom printed too and add the pill information material to it. That way you'd never lose it. Or if they could link the custom packages to an app, the detailed pill information, even richer than the bottle or pharmacy print outs, could always be there with you. Personally I had the experience of wanting the medication info with me after a new prescription. When I first got it and started it I read the info, but it is a lot of new information and it doesn't all always sink in the first go. Then a couple weeks in as possible side-effects started appearing I wanted to go through it again and remember wishing I was carrying that page of info and the bottle with me to check it, but both were at home and I had to wait to look up the info when I got home. After that I ended up taking a photo from my phone of the bottle and prescription info so I had it with me.

  • Daniel Kim

    I always throw that stuff away when I fill the weekly dose med box at home. These are for regular medications, not for ones that I'll be keeping on the shelf 'just in case', so expiration dates are not significant. I'd guess that there is a printout with that information included in the mailing box. The fact that they're in a waterproof packet is a big plus. I've ruined a month's supply of assorted meds by spilling water onto a four-week pill box.

  • This is brilliant. Maybe not defensible longterm, but the simplification of this process is much needed. Every grandparent in America has those anxious filled moments daily wondering if they took the right pills at the right time.

  • My thought exactly. How is this an advance beyond the less resource-intensive existing method, which, since it's not broke, don't need fixing.

  • Daniel Kim

    Much better than missing a dose or taking the wrong meds due to confusion. It is a big advance for people who take a lot of meds regularly.