Over the course of the 20th century, the average lifespan of people across the globe dramatically increased. With this increase, many in the medical field have been asking — how do we keep the quality of people’s lives higher as they age? One company, Boston-based LineHealth, is trying to solve the problem by uncomplicating people’s pill regimens with a streamlined device that makes remembering to take your medicine simple.
LineHealth co-founder Diogo Ortega realized that for many people — both the elderly and those suffering from chronic conditions — keeping track of multiple medications that have to be taken at different times is exceedingly complex. This realization came in part after his grandmother accidentally took one of his grandfather’s pills, forcing her to go to the hospital to get her stomach pumped. “I wanted to make it easier for them to take the right pills at the right time,” Ortega says. “So I started thinking about creative ways to use tech to help them.”
The idea he and co-founder Sofia Almeida ultimately came up with is a simplification of medicine delivery, that both collaborates with pharmacies and utilizes Ellie, a smart pill device. Ellie is an extremely simple, sleek device that requires no extra work from patients. Once a month, a cartridge of the patient’s medicine arrives at their doorstep, delivered by one of LineHealth’s pharmacy partners. The patient loads the cartridge into Ellie, and when it’s time to take a pill Ellie lets off a small visual and/or audio reminder. The patient then pushes the button to release the medicine. Further, the LineHealth team is connected to the device, so they know when and if medicine is being taken. If an important pill is forgotten, the team can contact family members and alert them.
But Ellie is only a part of what LineHealth is offering. “We put a lot of focus on the device on our website, but it’s a broad service that we provide,” Ortega says. “We have pharmacy partners and hospital partners. Our goal is not only to be a pharmacy, but to make sure what we sell to the patient is taking as it’s . . . originally prescribed.” LineHealth is able to do this through special packaging created by their pharmacy partners, which packages the medicine both by time of day it needs to be taken and which day it needs to be taken on.
Ortega also hopes to be able to provide Ellie free of cost to patients. “We try to get reimbursements from payers [such as insurance companies] because they’ll be avoiding costs.” Medicine taken correctly means less trips to urgent care or the emergency room, Ortega points out. “We also get a share of the revenue from our pharmacy partners.” Ortega says providing the device free of cost is extremely important. “That’s one of our goals because the patients we’re targeting, patients with chronic conditions and multiple conditions, might not be able to afford it,” he says.
Currently, LineHealth is looking for more payers to partner with. One of the payers they’ve attracted so far is the Arkansas Blue Cross/Blue Shield. LineHealth and the Arkansas Blue Cross/Blue Shield are launching a pilot program that will take in patients from two hospitals and start them using the system and the Ellie device. “[Arkansas] is one of the sickest states in the country,” Ortega says. “So there’s a lot that can be done there to improve the lives of patients.”
Launching the wide-scale pilot in Arkansas is only one of Ortega’s 2017 goals. “We arrived in the US a year ago with no network,” says Ortega — who started the company in Berlin after receiving a grant from Bayer Healthcare. But within a year, LineHealth has made many important connections, which Ortega is thankful for. “[Our partners] believe in our mission and drive to build this product and get it on the market.”
Ortega hopes to find even more partners as LineHealth gears up for another funding round, likely to happen about halfway through the year. He believes the mission of the company is what drives people to them. “I think . . . one of the main challenges of our lifetimes is to deal with older people,” Ortega says. “They don’t necessarily have the support system that helps them stay healthy at home. Our mission is to keep people at home as long as we can and to help them stay independent.”
Casey Nugent is an editorial intern for MedTech Boston. She’s currently working on her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. Outside of working at MedTech Boston, Casey enjoys drinking coffee, going to the theater, goofing around with friends, and hanging out with dogs.
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