Of all the consumer healthcare device ideas, this may be the most ingenious one. In August 2009, Massachusetts-based Vitality announced availability of GlowCaps– a web-enabled $99 cap for prescription bottles that helps remind patients to take their medications on time.

GlowCaps fits the standard pill container, and uses short-range wireless communication to talk to a gateway hub at home that is connect to the internet. There is also a reminder light (looks like a night light) that plugs into any standard power outlet. 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 after an hour, the pill is still not taken, GlowCap starts start playing jingles as well. After yet another hour, it’ll send a message to Vitality’s system which can then place an automated phone call or send a text message with a reminder. Brilliant.

Beyond having a ‘smart lid’ for bottles, Vitality has integrated functionality that keeps caregivers in loop. There are social support features (shareable weekly email reports), refill facilitation (refill reminder calls) and physician interaction tools (printed monthly reports to you/doctor). So it hits all the major interaction points for a patient’s medication regimen. Last month AT&T put out a press release about GlowCaps running on its wireless network. So the Vitality gateway now has mobile phone technology, and I assume that precludes the need for an ethernet connection.

Every clinician knows that medication adherence is a huge problem ($100B figure has been thrown around as the cost of poor adherence in US). More than a consumer product, this is a fantastic service that can change medication packaging in general. And looking at the Managed Care (enhance the personal/medical record), Research (change patient behavior) and Pharma (reduce brand-switching) focused pages of their website, I think Vitality knows that. It’s definitely the next stage in evolution of the standard pill dispensers (like ePill, Philips).

Their CEO David Rose has an interesting background in creating internet-connected everyday devices at his last company, Ambient Devices. Somewhere in a press release I read his quote about “…providing minute-by-minute adherence data to motivate healthy behavior.” If you take the word ‘adherence’ out, that may be a basis for a lot of future medical solutions and an adage for next-generation of medical device companies.

Feb 2011 Update: GlowCaps was acquired by the billionaire surgeon Patrick Soon-Shiong. He is the director of UCLA’s Wireless Health Institute.