How Ideo Helped Reinvent The Pillbox

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.