Keeping meds straight: machine automates drug dispensing at home

Debbie Benmamen loads the drug dispenser for her 74-year-old mother, who is on 14 different medications. The machine will dispense the drugs on time for a month. Buy this photo

Like so many primary caregivers, Debbie Benmamen takes great pains to organize the medications of her elderly parents.

By the numbers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says adverse drug events, or ADEs, are a serious and growing public health problem, noting the following statistics:

29 percent of American take five or more medications.

700,000 emergency room visits and 120,000 hospitalizations are due to adverse drug events annually.

$3.5 billion is spent on extra medical costs for ADEs annually. The numbers of adverse drug events will likely grow due to the aging American population, development of new medications, the discovery of new uses for older medication, the increased use of medication for disease prevention and increased coverage for prescription medications.

Older adults (65 years or older) are twice as likely as others to come to emergency departments for adverse drug events (more than 177,000 emergency visits each year) and nearly seven times more likely to be hospitalized after an emergency visit.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Her 88-year-old father, who has a heart condition, is on 20 different drugs. Her 74-year-old mother suffers from memory loss and is on 14 medications. Some drugs have to be taken with meals and some multiple times a day.

Add to that home nurses who also have to keep track of medications.

Not taking the right drug or skipping a dose, says Benmamen, can result in an illness, a hospitalization or even death.

“It was a just a nightmare keeping everything straight. I was pulling my hair out,” says Benmamen.

But a year ago, she found an ally in an at-home medication dispensing machine, the Philips Lifeline Service, that allows her to load it with weeks of medications and has safeguards to assure that the medications were dispensed.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” says Benmamen, who loads her father’s machine once every two weeks and her mother’s once a month. “It’s truly a godsend.”

Few using

Roper St. Francis Lifeline has been offering the service to clients for three years, but few have taken advantage of it locally, says Kelley Hallman, Lifeline coordinator for Roper St. Francis Healthcare.

Hallman says that more attention has been focused on the service, which includes a machine connected to a phone line to service monitors, since being featured on NBC’s “Today” show this year.

“It (the service) surprisingly hasn’t gotten a lot of attention until then,” says Hallman, adding that “a lot of doctors and hospices don’t even know about it.”

How much?

She says that the service, which costs $75 a month, can extend the time that a person can remain at home, instead of under more supervised, expensive care.

That fee covers the lease of the machine and 24-hour monitoring.

An alarm on the machine notifies when a cup with medications needs to be dispensed. The alarm will go off every minute for 40 minutes until it is. If it’s not, the machine sends a message to the primary caregiver and monitoring service.

According to Philips, the service has a 98.6 percent dispensing adherence level among monitored subscribers.

Independent living

The service has helped keep some residents at The Palms senior living community in Mount Pleasant in an independent living scenario, according to Dorothy Cryan, residential services manager for independent living.

“Many of them are on a plethora of medications and they may not need all of the services of assisted living,” says Cryan.

“This helps them maintain more independence.”

Another benefit is a peace of mind, says Cryan.

“The residents who have this service really like because it provides them assurance that they have taken their medications and they don’t have to worry.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand

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