A cuddly strategy to boost medication adherence

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Across the United States only 50 percent of prescribed medications are actually taken, resulting in at least 10 percent of hospitalizations. MediTeddi, an electronic teddy bear health care coach, offers a clever solution. 

The idea of MediTeddi came from William Bayer M.D., a clinical associate professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester. Bayer, who started Jefferson Family Medicine and spent over 30 years in practice, encountered medication nonadherence frequently. 

William Bayer

“I tried a number of strategies to encourage my patients to take their meds regularly, but nothing really worked very well,” Bayer says. “Then I had a revelation: I had started diabetes group visits and discovered that the patients started taking their medications more regularly and lowering their average blood sugar readings. 

“I felt it was the power of the group that motivated patients to care better for themselves. But what to do about patients who couldn’t or wouldn’t come to a health group? I thought that perhaps their motivation might come from a cuddly electronic health care coach in the form of a bear: MediTeddi!”

MediTeddi is the first product of HealthPozitive, which aims to develop products that make health care a more “pozitive” experience. In addition to Bayer, the HealthPozitive team includes his wife, Linda Bayer, who has spent more than three decades in the medical and dental field, and Jennifer Barnes, a licensed dispensing optician who also serves as the voice of MediTeddi. 

Using MediTeddi is simple; it is designed for use by all ages. To get started, a patient needs to turn on the bear when they take their morning medications. After this, MediTeddi asks patients twice a day whether they have taken their medications, and patients reply by pressing MediTeddi’s “Yes” or “No” paw. By pressing both paws for six seconds, the patient, their family, or their medical team can have MediTeddi recite stored responses for the past three weeks to track how frequently a patient is taking their medications. 

MediTeddi’s effectiveness was tested in a small pilot study of eight patients who received the tool with instructions and another eight patients serving as a control group. Each group received calls every two weeks for the 12 weeks of the study. After three months, the average blood sugar of the MediTeddi group dropped by 40 points and their confidence scores improved markedly. The three-month average blood sugar dropped by 12 points in the control group. The team behind the product hopes to conduct a confirmatory study on a larger scale.

Other testimonials of patients using MediTeddi show dramatic improvements. 

“A young boy with autism, depression, and seizures was unable to attend school,” Bayer says. “He was refusing his medications and his parents were trying to hold him down to give them, without much success. For some reason, he was happy to take his medications at the prompting of MediTeddi, and he was soon back in school with seizures and depression pretty well controlled.”

In the study, the group worked with a construction worker who had erratic diabetes. 

“He was about six foot four inches and 280 pounds, but he took to MediTeddi and lowered his average blood sugar by 80 points,” Bayer recalls. “At the end of our study he was worried that he couldn’t keep his bear. When we assured him he could, he cried out, ‘You’re coming home with me, Ralphie!’”

Reports show medication nonadherence results in 125,000 deaths annually, more deaths than those from colon cancer and breast cancer combined. Nonadherence to prescribed treatment is thought to rack up $100 billion in preventable medical costs per year. Bayer believes that many patients skip their medications due to a lack of motivation, rather than forgetfulness.

“MediTeddi gives people motivation to take their meds because it always has a caring response, whether the patient presses the ‘Yes’ or the ‘No’ paw,” he says. “In our pilot study, MediTeddi increased self-confidence and adherence, and that really is a win-win.”

HealthPozitive offers human telephone coaching to check in with patients on their MediTeddi compliance reports. Patients can also dress up their MediTeddi—HealthPozitive offers a line of hand-crocheted pants and dresses for MediTeddi, made by one of Bayer’s patients.

The HealthPozitive team has high hopes for MediTeddi, including potential internet compatibility that allows relatives to track compliance reports, using artificial intelligence to make MediTeddi even more interactive, and marketing the effects of MediTeddi to health caregivers. MediTeddi could also morph into a variety of stuffed companions, such as giraffes or football players, the company says.

“I feel strongly that MediTeddi can improve the health of almost anyone who needs to take medications on a regular basis,” Bayer says. “I believe MediTeddi will be the prototype for a long future line of electronic companions that improve well-being.”

Evan Coleman is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and a recent University of Rochester graduate. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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