‘Many people need help to take their medication on time and as prescribed’

Innovation awards finalist HealthBeacon sends customised SMS reminders to keep people on track and is aimed at those who need regular medication

The fast pace of modern life can make it difficult for those on strict medication regimens. At best, about 70 per cent of patients stick to their prescribed therapy and in some cases the compliance can be as low as 50 per cent. Smart, connected devices that prompt people to take their medication on time each day, are seen as a key way to improve this statistic and Dublin-based HealthBeacon has developed what it believes to be the world's first smart sharps system to help patients who self-inject medication to manage their treatment.

Traditionally, people used to go to hospital for injections. However, advances in medical science have now made home administration possible. What was needed was a way of making the human part of the equation work. Poor treatment adherence is estimated to cost healthcare providers worldwide an estimated $290 billion a year.

HealthBeacon’s Smart Sharps System is programmed to suit each patient’s particular needs. It sends customised SMS reminders to keep people on track and is aimed at those who need regular medication for conditions such as diabetes and Crohn’s disease. By automating the administration process, patients no longer need to remember often complex injection schedules and clinicians can see at a glance how well someone has been following their regime.

Apart from being smart, the HealthBeacon bin also looks smart. Normal sharps bins are brightly coloured clunky plastic containers plastered with warnings. Not exactly an aesthetic addition to any home. The HealthBeacon bin is neat and discreet and constantly displays the user’s adherence score to ensure ongoing patient involvement in their own care.

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"Smart medical devices have been shown to improve adherence by 27 per cent and with patient empowerment as our top priority we have developed a device that has led to wide acceptance of HealthBeacon by patients as part of their treatment. Our platform has achieved adherence rates of between 75 and 90 per cent which is well above average," says chief executive Jim Joyce.

Joyce and his co-founder, CTO Kieran Daly, are no strangers to healthcare startups. Joyce is also the founder of Point of Care Health Services and a director of Health XL, a global platform for digital health collaboration. Daly has more than 20 years' experience in merging technology and healthcare and is the former chief executive of wearables technology company Shimmer.

"The original idea came from me and we began working on prototypes in 2013," Joyce says. "About a year later we had a device ready to pilot and ran a pilot in Ireland followed by a full commercial launch in 2016. This in turn led to a global pilot and we are now selling in seven European countries and Canada. Approval for the US market will be next. We hope to start selling there in quarter one 2018."

Angel investors

Investment in the business has been in excess of €3 million with funding coming from angel investors, Enterprise Ireland and private equity companies Oyster Capital Partners and Elkstone. HealthBeacon employs 17 people and has offices in Boston, Montreal and San Paolo.

HealthBeacon’s primary target market is pharma companies supplying injectable drugs. They will lease the bins from HealthBeacon and provide them to patients free of charge.

Joyce believes the main reason the company’s product has struck a chord with patients is because it meets a real need. “We have good connections within the healthcare and pharma sectors and were able to get right to the heart of what a device to improve adherence should be like. Then we addressed the issue of how it should look because traditional sharps bins were never designed for home use. By working with Irish company Design Partners we were able to come up with a design that does not look out of place in a modern home and meets an unfulfilled clinical need. Injecting oneself is not intuitive. Many people need help to take their medication on time and as prescribed.”

The Smart Sharps System is HealthBeacon’s first product but will not be its last. “Our slogan is ‘smart tools for managing medication’ and we will launch a product for pills in 2018 and expect to grow to a portfolio of five or six tools in due course,” Joyce says.