Automatic Pill Dispenser Evaluations: Hands-on

Written By: Richard Caro.  Last Updated: August 28, 2020.

 

Automatic Pill Dispensers under Evaluation

Caption: Variety of pill dispensers and smart pill boxes under evaluation.  |  Back row L-R: Pria, Hero, MedaCube, Philips, Tabsafe, Livi. Front row L-R: GMS, MedMinder, MedReady, CompuMed.

 

When a person starts having trouble adhering to the medication routine prescribed by their doctor — or when they or their caregiver or spouse start finding it a burden to be filling pill boxes endlessly with complex combinations of pills — automatic pill dispensers may be the solution.

 

Overview

What These Products Do: The products we evaluated in this research have varying degrees of complexity, and of things they can help you accomplish. The common feature: They are all designed to make available the pills you need when you need them, without you needing to do much thinking, and to prevent you taking the wrong pills at the wrong time.

What We Did: We researched all of the automatic pill dispensers we could find, acquired all of them that met our initial screening criteria, and did an intensive, hands-on, comparative evaluation.

What We Found: As we often find, it is too simplistic to talk of the "best automatic pill dispenser". But it is definitely appropriate to talk about the "best pill dispenser for a specific individual or life situation".

On this page (and in the accompanying detailed individual product reviews) we explain how we tested the products, who they are good for and why — and discuss the differentiating features that matter.

In Part 2 of this work we describe several specific life situations, and recommend which product will be best for that life situation.

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Recommendations: Summary

Overall, our top picks within the Automatic Pill Dispenser category are the MedaCube, MedMinder, and Hero products (links go to our detailed reviews which also contain links that send you to the vendor's websites where you can learn more or acquire the products).

 

Pill Dispenser Top Picks

Caption: Top Picks, Automated Pill Dispensers. Left-Right: MedMinder, MedaCube, Hero.

 

All three of these products greatly simplify the task of "filling". But there are significant differences between these three products that make us recommend each one for a different set of life situations. To see a more detailed discussion, and which of these three products we prefer in specific situations, scroll down to the more detailed discussions of each life situation.

Two other products which we evaluated seemed less good to us for most situations. However there were some specific situations in which the Livi and the Philips automatic pill dispensers had particular, unique features, that made up for their "less good aspects". So we would recommend these products too, but only in very specific situations.

For people who read this analysis, and decide they really don't need anything as complex as these "top picks" — for example because they have simple, unchanging medication regimens, with relatively few different medications, and don't find "filling" at all tedious or error prone — then we recommend the GMS Medication Dispenser. This product is also significantly cheaper than the top picks above.

 

GMS Medication Dispenser

Caption: GMS Medication Dispenser. Simple, inexpensive, but limited functionality.

 

If you end up deciding all this is overkill for you, then you can always fall back on the tried and true Simple Pill Box (see our explorer pill box recommendations) and a Reminder App (see these Reminder App reviews from the Useful Apps Club).

 

 

 

 

Why Might You Need an Automatic Pill Dispenser?

Answer: Better Medication Adherence & Less Tedious Sorting of Pills.

Many people are happy with conventional pill boxes to organize their pills, and some type of reminder system to help remember when to take them. But there are situations where something more sophisticated make sense.

For example:

  • People can start having trouble adhering to the medication routine prescribed by their doctor — because they have complex medication regimens; or take lots of pills; or develop physical or cognitive conditions; 
  • They may find it an increasingly tedious task to "stay on top of their meds"; or
  • The person whose job it is to carefully sort multiple pills into pill box compartments each week might start to have trouble doing it correctly — or might just find it increasingly tedious.

When one of these things happens, it may be time to consider one of a family of more complex tools to help with taking the right medication at the right time. We call this family of products "automatic pill dispensers".

 

Right Medication, Right Time

All of these products automatically dispense the medications you need when you need them — the right medications at the right time.

They typically do that with a combination of reminders and notifications so you do not forget, plus a system that is designed to spit out just the right medication at the right time, and avoid the possibility of taking the wrong pills, or too many pills, or not enough pills.

 

Eliminate the Need to Sort Pills into Pill Box Slots each Week

Some of these products, also make the tedious chore of "filling" (organizing the pills) easier.

The products in this subcategory — which we call "robot pill organizer / dispensers" — are designed to eliminate the need for a person to do the repetitive task of sorting numerous pills into individual pill box slots every week. 

We think this capability of organizing the pills for you is a particularly important characteristic, as it eliminates one of the most tedious and error prone aspects of managing complex medication regimens.

For older adults who have declining cognition, this might put off the day at which someone else needs to take over the task of managing their medication for them. And, in situations where it is the job of a caregiver (spouse, adult child, or paid employee) to fill pill boxes with complex combinations of pills, each month or each week, this capability has the potential to make the job of the caregiver easier.

When the caregiver is someone you are paying for help, this capability seems to us to have the potential to also save money (reducing the time it takes for the caregiver to sort pills each week).

 

Limitations

Medication adherence is a complex topic, and these products do not solve all the issues that can lead to imperfect medication adherence. For example, if a person chooses not to take his / her medication for any of a variety of reasons, these products do not "fix" that problem.

And, there are some limitations to the type of medication that each of these products can handle. We discuss this in some more detail below in the section on "Differentiating Features".

 

An Alternate Approach

A completely different approach is to have a pharmacy deliver medications in prepackaged "dose groups", such as individual packets for a specific time of day. The most high profile example of this is PillPack. This alternative is outside the scope of this evaluation, but should be on your radar screen. This type of prepackaged pill pack approach eliminates the need to do your own "organizing", but it does not address the need to take the pills at the appropriate time, or lock away doses until it is time to take them, or include a number of other features that the automatic pill dispensers include — and it has some limitations in situations where doses change regularly.

 

 

 

 

Approach, Methodology, & Team

Our Goal: Do an in-depth, hands-on evaluation of all/most of the high end medication management dispensers and smart pill boxes that are available for use by consumers and their caregivers in their homes or independent living situations. Make specific recommendations.

Depending on the sort of person you are, you might like to know everything we have learned so you can decide how that applies to your situation. OR, you might just like us to "tell you what we recommend".

In this article we try and satisfy both those points of view and here is how.

  1. The products in the family of automatic pill dispensers, divide into several sub categories, depending on their functionality, and we lay that out in "the Different Sub-Categories".
  2. There are some "Key Differentiating Features" that matter, and we focus on those rather than telling you about all features, regardless of whether or not they differentiate the products from one another.
  3. We think most people who would benefit from one of these products fall into one or other of some "Typical Life Situations". For each such life situation, we make a specific Life Situation Recommendation.
  4. If you want to dig in deeper, read the individual reviews of each product.

 

The "Filler" & The "Dispensee"

Regardless of the life situation, we found it useful to consider things from the point of view of two individuals: the "filler" and the "dispensee". The "filler" is the person who has the job of making sure that the automatic pill dispensers are filled with the appropriate medications. The "dispensee" is the person who receives the medication from the pill dispenser — usually the person who takes the medications. In some situations, the same person is both dispensee and filler.

 

What We Did

Methodology: We identified all the products we could find that were commercially available and fit our definition of automatic pill dispensers or smart pill boxes. We researched them all online and in some cases by interviewing the companies, and ruled out those which seemed to have obvious flaws or which were not yet commercially available, or which failed to respond to repeated "customer enquiries".

In Q4 2019 and Q1 2020, we acquired each of the products that seemed "promising" and included them in our evaluations. In total, we did in-depth, hands-on evaluations of 10 different "automatic pill dispenser" products, as well as a rather large number of much simpler pill boxes and pill organizers that we have discussed elsewhere on this site.

For the evaluations, we set up and used all the products side by side for a period of several months. We implemented various medication regimens, and evaluated the ease of use and challenges associated with the roles of dispensee and filler. We did our best to think through the potential challenges people with various physical and cognitive impairments would have. 

Independent: Several of the vendors were kind enough to loan us their products to evaluate. In other cases, Tech-enhanced Life bought or rented the products. Other than loaning us their products, and in some cases being interviewed and sharing their reasons for specific design tradeoffs, the vendors did not have inputs to the study design, nor did they sponsor it in any way.

 

Who Did the Work

The hands-on work for this evaluation was done primarily by Dr. Richard Caro.

We enlisted an expert advisory panel of individuals with varied and relevant expertise, who we relied on to make sure we were thinking about the right issues and challenges to make the work as relevant as possible. While the expert panel gave us invaluable guidance, if it turns out we have made any errors, Tech-enhanced Life is solely responsible for those.

Our advisory panel contains experts with a variety of different perspectives on the topic of medication management and older adults. Professional competencies in the team include physio-therapy, occupational therapy, gerontology, pharmacy, care management, dementia-care, aging services, and technology. 

More About the Team & Methodology: See "Medication Adherence: About Our Research".

 

 

 

 

The Different Product Sub-Categories

We use the term "automatic pill dispenser" (also called medication dispensers) for this entire category of products. The automatic pill dispensers fall into several sub-categories, depending largely on who "organizes" the pills into their individual daily doses. The sub-categories, discussed further below, are:

  • Your Pill Robot does the Organizing (Robot Pill Organizer / Dispensers);
  • The Pharmacy does the Organizing;
  • You or a Caregiver do the Organizing;
  • The "Low End" Alternative.

 

1. Your "Pill Robot" does the "Organizing"

Robot Pill Organizer / Dispensers are designed to make the job of "filling" much easier, as well as to automatically dispense the pills. There are three of these products in this study: the Livi, MedaCube, and the Hero.

The distinguishing feature of this class of products is the elegant simplicity with which they handle the task of receiving all your pills, and getting them organized so that the ones you need to take will be dispensed when you need them.

The big selling point in our opinion is that you (or a caregiver or friend) no longer need to painstakingly sort out your pills into little compartments for each day or time that they will be taken, as you do with a pill box, and many of the other automatic pill dispensers.

Instead, with these products, you basically pour all the pills of one type into a container in the machine. Then you pour all the pills of the second type you take into a second container in the machine. And so on.

 

Robot pill organizers and their internal containers

Caption: Robot Pill Organizers and the cups which store the pills inside the machines.

 

Then, you "inform" these products — using a relatively simple user interface on an App or Portal or on the machine — which medications you want them to dispense, and when, and in what quantities. Lo and behold, the machine then "dispenses" the pills you need at the times and in the quantities that you requested when you set it up.

The big benefits of this approach are two. First, it should make a big difference to caregivers and spouses who currently find the whole business of filling pill boxes every week stressful and time consuming. Second, it should be much less prone to error than the approach of filling the pill boxes manually.

Within this category of robot pill organizers, we recommend both the Hero and the MedaCube. The MedaCube is the top of the line product. It has many features the Hero does not have — including the ability to record messages in an actual voice; a clever photo documentation of the pills dispensed; a barcode scanner that makes entering data easier; and battery backup. And the MedaCube works well in any situation we could think of, whereas the Hero is not suited for situations where a person has dementia. On the other hand, there are many situations where you could definitely manage without those extra features, and the Hero is quite a lot less expensive, and has a very nice "consumery" feel to its interface.

Basically, we liked both products. To see which we prefer in specific situations, see Part 2 of this study: the Best Medication Dispenser for You.

 

2. The Pharmacy does the "Organizing"

The second category of automatic pill dispenser is one in which the pill dispenser accepts some type of pre-packaged tray or container that comes in the mail from the pharmacy.

The idea is that instead of sending you a pill bottle, or several pill bottles, the pharmacy sends you some type of "pack" in which the pills are already organized into "groups" according to when you are supposed to take them.

While there are a variety of pharmacy offerings that send pre-packaged medications to you (with PillPack being especially well publicized), in this study we are focusing on systems where, when the prepackaged pills arrive on your door step, you load the entire package into some type of "system" that then helps dispense them on time and remind you, and track how adherent you are, and perhaps notify caregivers if things are not going well.

The only product of this type we are recommending is the MedMinder. We know of several companies developing competing products that also look promising, but since they are not yet in widespread commercial release we have not included them here.

 

MedMinder and filling tray from pharmacy

Caption: MedMinder pill dispenser open ready to receive new tray (left). Empty tray is on right.

 

3. You (or a Caregiver) do the "Organizing"

Products in this subcategory all require someone to do the painstaking job of separating out your medications for the week or month, and grouping them into individual containers or compartments according to the day and time they need to be taken.

Conceptually, the filling of these devices is no different than a conventional pill box. Their main reason for existing is to improve on the "dispensee" experience. The Philips, TabSafe, and CompuMed products fall into this category.

In many ways, we see these as the "previous generation" of products. Most of them have been around for many years. Most show their age in subtle aspects of their design. We think for many scenarios involving complex medication regimens, they are simply no longer competitive with the latest products (the two categories above).

Having said that, one in particular, the Philips Medication Dispenser, has a very well thought out "Dispensee" interface, clearly designed for the situation in which the dispensee has cognition challenges, and is not meant to be going anywhere near the "filling" interface. In our opinion, this is the "standard to beat" as far as a Dispensee interface goes for that scenario, and we think there will be situations in which this makes it the product of choice, even though the "filling" part of the machine leaves a great deal to be desired in terms of "ease of use". 

There are some other aspects of this sub-category of products that make it a good choice in some other, somewhat limited use cases (see life situations below).

The Pria from Black + Decker also fits this category, although it is a greatly modernized implementation of it. And the Pria includes an "assisted filling" mode that potentially makes the manual filling less error prone (although we found it very slow).

 

4. The "Low End" Alternative

Finally, there is a group of products that lack quite a few of the features of the more sophisticated products in the sub-categories above, but which might be "just fine" in certain situations and which are a lot less expensive (and smaller). Our favorite among this category is the GMS Medication Dispenser.

These products involve you filling a rotating wheel of different pill compartments (sort of a circular pill box). They do not help you organize the pills at all. And they have quite limited reporting capabilities and caregiver notification capability. Their low cost and small size (easy to take with you in a bag) are pluses.

 

Filling the GMS Medication Dispenser

Caption: Filling the GMS Medication Dispenser. Each little compartment holds the pills for a single "dose time". You put the pills in one at a time by hand, just like a normal pill box.

 

The MedReady product also fits in this category and has very similar performance to the GMS products (each has several variants that compete with each other) but is considerably more expensive, and frankly quite a bit less attractive in appearance, according to the older adults who helped us with our evaluations. 

 

 

 

 

Differentiating Features: Breakdown & Comparisons

Another way to help decide which product is right for you is to look at the key differentiating features among our "top picks", and then decide which of those features are most relevant to your situation. Here are what we consider the key differentiating features, and a discussion of how the products compare.

 

Types of Medications

A good place to start is to look at the "types" of medications you need to be able to handle.

None of these automatic pill dispensers handle liquid medications or injectables or medication that needs to be refrigerated, although all but the simple GMS can be configured to "remind" you of these medications kept outside the machines.

But even within the category of "pills" (caplets, tablets etc), there are some differences in what these different products can handle.

  • Among our Top Picks, the products that are filled by putting the pills into separate pill containers for each dose, like the MedMinder, or the Philips, or the GMS, are designed to be able to handle any solid form of medication, so long as it can be stored at room temperature.
  • The "robot organizer / dispensers" (MedaCube, Hero, Livi) have some additional limitations, which relate to the details of how their internal technology works. They cannot handle "half pills" (unless they are put into new capsules). Nor can they handle "soft gummies, chewables, or liquid filled gel capsules".
  • Other products in which the pills move internally (eg Tabsafe, Pria) also have limitations regarding gel tabs, which can stick.

The "majority" of pills can be handled by all these products. But if your regimen includes some of the excluded types of medication, that might help make a choice.

 

Who Organizes the Medications ("Filling")

For the robot organizers (MedaCube, Hero, Livi), the machine itself does the job of "organizing" the pills and picking which to dispense at a given time. This is a great convenience, eliminating the need for painstaking sorting. And you can make regimen adjustments anytime you want very easily. However, it means you need to trust the machine to do it correctly.

The MedMinder makes it possible to have the pharmacy do the "organizing" — providing prepackaged "doses" that slot into the MedMinder machine with minimal effort. This is again a great convenience. However, it means you need to trust the pharmacy to do it correctly. And regimen adjustments are less easy and may have a "time lag" between when you ask for them, and when you get the next "delivery" from the pharmacy.

Most of the remaining products (Philips, GMS, MedReady, TabSafe, Compumed — or MedMinder if you fill it manually) require you or a caregiver to "organize" the pills into daily dose groups. This is tedious and time consuming. And adjustments to the regimen require the Caregiver (or you) to take action. And you need to trust the caregiver (or yourself) to sort the pills correctly.

The Pria takes a different and rather unique approach to filling. The system is based internally on a circular pill wheel concept (like the GMS or MedReady product). And you can fill the Pria manually by carefully putting the right pills into the right compartments as you do with those other simpler machines, or with a conventional pill box. However, there is also a "robot assisted filling mode" for the Pria — in which you feed pills in one at a time through a sort of "chute" in the top of the product, under direction by the AI that runs the Pria. After you add a specific pill, the Pria AI puts it into the right individual compartment. This might well reduce filling errors. However, we found it very slow. To fill our test regimen of three pills a day for 28 days took roughly 20 minutes. See Pria review for details.

 

What We Liked

In terms of "filling complexity", we really liked the way the MedaCube and Hero worked as far as filling goes. It was extremely straightforward and easy, and completely under "our" control. We can also imagine numerous scenarios where having the pharmacy do the filling and deliver the package of pre-filled medication containers each week would be very reassuring (The MedMinder scenario).

 

How Filling Happens: Robot Pill Organizer Category

As a consequence of the exact technological approach each vendor has chosen for manipulating individual pills inside the machine, the process of filling the machine with pills has some significant differences between the three products (MedaCube, Hero, Livi) in the robot pill organizer category.

The MedaCube and Hero product seem to work in a very similar fashion. At any rate, the way the user interfaces with them during filling is extremely similar. The Livi differs in that it "requires some assembly". 

In each case, you use the user interface on the product itself (touch screen or buttons plus screen) which guides you through a simple process. After choosing which medication you wish to fill, you open a "door" in the side of the system (or the lid in the case of Livi), and pull out a container that looks rather like a cup or drinking glass. You pour as many pills as you wish from the bottle in which those pills came from the pharmacy into the system's "container", and then put the container back into the machine (very simple). Then the user interface guides you to move on to repeating the same process for each type of medication you wish to put into the system.

For the Hero and MedaCube, the containers are moulded plastic containers, and regardless of the type of pill you plan to put into them, they do not need any "adjusting". In contrast, for the Livi, you need to hand build each container from two large boxes of parts that come with the product. And each container uses a different set of parts which depend on the exact pill you are going to put in the container. See Livi review for details.

Our conclusion: We found the Livi to require a significant level of technical ability and training to use — not only at initial setup, but every time you change pill type. This is definitely less "easy and user friendly" than the competing products in this subcategory, and we think this makes it much easier to make errors in filling the Livi than the Hero or MedaCube.

 

Data on "Reliability & Perfection"

When you rely on the machine to organize and dispense the pills a big question is: "How "perfect" is it?" And when you count on yourself or the pharmacy to organize the pills, the right question is "how often do mistakes occur"?

Nothing is perfect of course. In the case of the robot pill organizers, we asked the companies that made the products we are recommending if they had data on how perfect their machines were as far as dispensing the correct pills. In each case the company made it clear they had done a great deal of testing of this fact, and according to them they were "very good". However none of the companies could share third party data that validated this.

We would have liked to see some third party validation, and if we were one of the companies we would commision such testing and make it widely available.

In our evaluations, the Hero and MedaCube systems seemed to work well. We did not see any instances of incorrect dispensing with them. But we did NOT set out to test every size and shape of pill, or test thousands of dispensing events, or do the extensive performance testing you would need to quantify this feature.

For a product like the MedMinder, the question is how frequently do pharmacies make errors in their mail order packs? We don't have data on that either, but it is likely non-zero.

And if you do it yourself, how likely are you to sometimes put the wrong pill in the wrong compartment? Speaking for ourselves, that seemed very likely in situations where the medication regimen was at all complex. The Pria attempts to address this with its assisted fill mode.

 

Dispensee User Interface

All these automatic pill dispensers attract your attention when a dose is ready and require you to "do something".

The robot organizers (Hero, MedaCube, Livi) require you to press a button. The MedMinder requires you to "open a compartment". The Philips requires you to press a button. The Pria lets you talk to it, or press a button.

After, all require you to pick up (or tip over) some type of "dispensed pill container" and take the pills.

Messages in a familiar voice: Several of the products allow someone to record a message in an actual person's voice and have that be the "reminder". The MedaCube and MedMinder have this feature.

 

Separation between a "Dispensee Interface" and a "Filler Interface".

One of the common scenarios in which these types of products will be used involves two different people. One (the "dispensee") is the person who consumes the medication, and who needs to interface with the machine when it is time for the medications to be dispensed. The second (the "filler") is the person who worries about putting the right medication into the system every week or month, and who sets up the "dispensing schedule" according to whatever schedule has been prescribed by the physicians of the dispensee.

In cases when the dispensee and the filler are two different people, it is quite important to keep the two interfaces distinct. For example, you want to avoid the situation where the dispensee interacts with the system and inadvertently presses the wrong button and messes up the medication schedule or refills the pills when they are not supposed to, or any one of a number of possible scenarios.

In older products, such as the Philips or Tabsafe, the product developers created two distinct keyboards: one for the dispensee and one for the filler. And these products hide or lock away the "filler" keyboard so that the dispensee can not accidentally get at it.

The products we are recommending vary in their approach to this issue (details discussed in the individual product reviews). We think most of them address it adequately, except for the Hero, which we found lacking in this respect (see Hero review for details).

With the Hero, we were unable to "prevent" the Dispensee from accessing the pill containers where they could potentially make changes to what was in them. While this seemed no problem at all in scenarios such as "you being in charge of your own medication", we think this could be problematic — for example when a Dispensee has cognitive impairment.

With the MedMinder product, you need to get the MedMinder Jon not the MedMinder Maya if this issue is important in your situation.

The Pria does not seem to address this issue. Anyone can open the pill compartment and adjust the pills.

 

Suitability for Impaired Cognition

These products are often an appropriate tool when dealing with a person with impaired cognition.

As explained in the Dispensee Interface summary above, all require some level of interaction between the person taking the medication and the product. If that is not realistic, then a caregiver needs to be the go between between the dispenser and the patient, in which case this section is not really relevant.

For mild or even significant cognitive impairments, there are some differentiating aspects of the products. The Philips seems to us to have an interface that requires the absolute minimum of cognition to operate it. There is a button to press, and a sort of chute down which comes the pill container. The MedaCube and the MedMinder also seem pretty simple, although not quite as simple as the Philips. And the simple GMS might also work well, requiring just a tilt of the circular pill box to dispense the dose when it beeps.

The MedaCube has been designed specifically to be useful with impaired cognition (as well as in other situations), and has specific features that help in this situation (see MedaCube review for details).

We did not think the Hero would be a good choice for people with poor cognition, due to the imperfect separation of the dispensee and filler interface, described above. And the company specifically recommends against using the Hero in situations where the user has dementia.

 

Hearing & Vision Impairments

Hearing: All our top picks use flashing lights as well as noises to alert you it is time to take a dose. And the more modern ones (MedMinder, MedaCube, Hero, Livi) can send text or email reminders too.

Vision: The modern robot organizers (MedaCube, Hero, Livi) all have screens with text on them that are used as a way to give you messages. If you were unable to read these, it would definitely make the machines harder to use. The MedMinder has large individual compartments, and a flashing light makes clear which one to open, and no fine print or ability to discern small things is required to operate it. The Philips, with the simplest interface and just one large raised button to press, seems the product most compatible with severe vision disability. But none of the products have Braille to help operation. The Pria has a very engaging voice interface (and the ability to identify you via facial recognition), which means in theory you could control it by voice without needing to interface with its screen. 

 

Complexity of Medication Regimen

Complexity comes in various forms.

Lots of pills, and/or lots of pill types: The capacity chart below lets you see how the products stack up in terms of number of types of medication, and total numbers of pills they can take. Because they all work a bit differently it is hard to make direct comparisons, though.

Scheduling complexity: Some medication regimens need doses to happen at many different times or at very exact times, or at times that change from day to day. This is one of the big strengths of the new robot pill organizers (MedaCube, Hero, Livi). Once a specific pill type is in the system, you can make changes to the number of pills and the time of dose and the number of dose times per day with great ease using either the system's screen or the App or web portal.

The older product concepts, and concepts based on a pill wheel approach (PhilipsGMS, Pria, MedReady, Tabsafe, CompuMed), require a fair bit of effort to change the regimen other than at the weekly or monthly filling times. And the MedMinder depends on the pharmacy making the changes for you, which we have not tested but suspect would not be trivial at short notice.

The Philips is limited to a  maximum of six different dose times per day, the MedMinder (and GMS) to four. In contrast, the robot organizers can have far more. The MedaCube can have 20 different dose times per day; the Hero can have "an unlimited number" according to the company; and the Livi can have 24. All of the products can dispense multiple types of pill at each dose time.

"As Needed" Medication: Several of the products allow you to put a specific type of medication into the system, and set it so that the Dispensee can receive doses "on demand" within some limits (for example of how frequently and how many per day). This is a very useful feature in some situations, for example with pain medication. The MedaCube, Hero, Livi, and Tabsafe all allow this "medication on demand" capability.

 

Caregiver Interface & Monitoring

All these products (except the least expensive variants of the GMS and the MedReady) are designed with the idea that a "Caregiver" would be involved and would at least get notifications when things are not "on track", and in some cases would pretty much be "in charge".

In this initial evaluation we tried out all the different caregiver notification schemes and used them for several weeks. We thought they were all pretty similar, when we evaluated them with the individual caregiver in mind. So far, we are not seeing this aspect of the products as a big differentiator, although there are no doubt subtle differences, and we would welcome feedback on this if you have used the products.

Some (eg MedMinder, MedaCube, Livi) have portals that enable a caregiver to manage multiple products, but we did not think hard about this aspect of the products.

 

Did They Take the Pills?

The MedMinder, Pria and Hero have an extra "did you take the medication" check in which they can tell if you did actually pick up the medication cup.

The MedaCube has a very cool feature in which a camera takes a picture of the pill compartment before, during and after dispensing, and uploads that to the caregiver portal. This lets you do a check that pills have indeed been dispensed, and then removed from the container by someone (hopefully the dispensee). It also lets you get a visual confirmation that the pills "look right".

None of the products can really tell whether you put the pills in your mouth and swallowed them.

 

Remote Adjustment of Regimen

All three of the robot pill organizers (MedaCube, Hero, Livi) have the additional feature that a Caregiver can make changes to the medication regimen from anywhere in the world, so long as the right types of pills are in the system. This seems quite an important feature in many situations where the caregivers do not live with the Dispensee.

The other products, like the Philips or MedMinder, are much more limited due to the fact that "doses" get packaged into individual pill compartments, which you can not change from a distance. So with these products, you can change the actual time of a dose. But you cannot change what is in the dose (eg 2 pills of type x) without visiting the machine.

 

Accomodating the "Out and About" Lifestyle

The basic paradigm on which all these products are based is that you will be sitting at home when it is time to take your medication.

So, if you mainly need to take medication at a handful of times when in fact you most likely will be sitting at home, this paradigm is not a problem. On the other hand, if you have an active out and about type lifestyle, and need medication at times at which your are often NOT at home, this paradigm can be problematic.

The only product in this group you might imagine actually carrying around with you on a daily basis would be the GMS Medication Dispenser.

If the challenge is that you shuttle between several residences, but are at each one for days at a time, then it is more about "luggability", and the MedMinder would probably work quite well.

We think it would be a big annoyance to need to transport one of the larger systems from place to place, although not impossible.

Both the MedaCube and the Hero make it quite easy to "dispense a dose early", so if the issue is just that you often need a "dose to go", these products work well. It is not "hard" to get multiple early doses out of these two machines either (eg a week's worth of early doses). However it is tedious and takes quite a few button presses. The Hero App has the nice extra feature that it will notify you when it is time take the dose you took with you "to go".

The MedMinder is less well suited to this "dose to go" concept, although you can easily just open up the compartment and take out a dose (or multiple doses) at any time. But then it gets confused about whether or not you took the dose.

 

Look & Feel

The MedMinder looks and operates like a large conventional pill box, and will thus have a "familar" feel to it. The GMS also resembles a conventional pill box (although it is circular).

The other recommended products (MedaCube, Hero, Livi, Philips) are all fairly large, complex machines that flash and beep. Some will think of them as "cool gadgets", while others will worry about the "invasion of the robots". The MedaCube is the smallest, but all are quite large.

Of the large complex machines, the Philips gives off the vibe of "I am frail and I need care" the most. The three more modern robot organizers (MedaCube, Livi, Hero) try and look and feel like a sort of consumer gadget such as an espresso maker.

Of the other products we evaluated, the Tabsafe and CompuMed have a rather dated appearance, and look like clinical systems more than consumer products. The MedReady looked functional, but our explorers voted it "least attractive". The Pria looks very cool, and is really a cross between a pill dispenser and a social robot. 

 

How it Connects

All the products (except the least expensive variants of the GMS and the MedReady, and the CompuMed) require Internet connectivity to work well. They vary in how they connect, and depending on your location and level of tech-savvy-ness, this might be a differentiator.

The Hero and Pria and Tabsafe need to access your WiFi network, and if you don't have one or it is unreliable, this is a negative. The MedaCube can use the WiFi, but can also use a cellular connection.

The MedMinder, LiviMedaCube, and MedReady have their own built in cellular connectivity, which makes set up very simple — so long as there is a strong cell signal from the appropriate carrier in the room where the product will go. If this is an issue for you, see the individual reviews for more details.

The Philips needs a "landline", which many people no longer have. And for "non-traditional phone lines", which we believe represent a much more common "landline" today than do "traditional phone lines", there are some extra challenges to get connected. In most situations we see this as a negative. However, if you have a real "landline" this might be a plus.

 

Capacity

Robot Pill Organizers / Dispensers

In this category of product, each product has room for a fixed number of "containers" and this governs how many different types of pills can be in each system. The table below shows these numbers. So, if the product has 10 containers, you can use it for up to 10 different types of pills.

 

Product Number of Containers "Standard Pills" per Container Total "Standard Pill" Capacity
Hero 10 80 800
MedaCube config#1* 8 160 1280
MedaCube config #2* 16 80 1280
Livi 15 160 2400

The sizes of the containers are what determines exactly how many pills you can load at once, which determines how often you need to fill each product. You can see size estimates in the table above too.

Obviously, the size of a given pill affects how many of that pill type you can fit into a given container. We chose a "standard size pill" (1) and counted how many of that pill would fit into each product. Of course, for smaller pills you can fit more, and for larger pills you can fit less, so this is more a way to compare relative sizes than anything else.

For comparison, if you needed 10 different types of pills, and took 4 per day of each, you would use a total of 280 pills per week and 1120 every 28 days. So all of these systems have plenty of capacity for most people for a week's supplies, and for many people a month's supplies of pills will fit quite nicely.

*NOTE: The MedaCube product has 8 "slots" for containers, and each can be filled with either one large container or two small ones. When you order the product you select whether to have 12, 14, or 16 containers. And the machine comes with a combination of large and small containers in it, accordingly. We got the "12 container" version, which thus has 4 large containers and 8 small containers in it. The containers are inside, and none of this is obvious to the user, nor does it change how the machine looks or operates or its size. I suspect you could change the number of containers later after you started using the product if need be, but have not verified that.

 

Dispensers with "Slots for each Dose"

Many of the products in this evaluation are, like conventional pill boxes, designed so that you manually sort the pills into little compartments, with a pill group in each compartment corresponding to a particular "dose time". These products are somewhat less flexible than the robot pill organizers, and the things that matter are the total number of compartments, and how many "dose times" can be scheduled per day.

 

Product Doses / day Pill "compartments" Standard Pills / compartment Total "Standard Pill" capacity
MedMinder 4 28 12 336
GMS 6 28 14 392
Philips 6 60 30 1800
Pria no limit 28 10 280
MedReady 4 28 12 336
Tabsafe* 4 4x16 7 448
Compumed 4 28 15 420

*Tabsafe is expandable up to 12 trays, which would give it a total pill capacity of 1,344.

 

 

Pricing*

Product Up front fee Monthly Fee Two year Cost  
MedaCube $1499   $1,499  
Livi $49 $99 $2,425  
Hero $100 $30 $820  
MedMinder Maya $0 $40 $960  
Philips $0 $60 $1440  
Pria*** $700 $10 $880  
TabSafe** $1200   $1200  
CompuMed $790   $790  
GMS (no WiFi) $80   $80  
MedReady (no WiFi) $159   $159  
GMS (WiFi) $200   $200  
MedReady (cellular) $307 $16 $691  

*Current as of Jan 2020.  |  ** also available as refurbished or rental.   |   ***Upfront fee includes first 6 months of subscription.

 

Value

Some of these prices are considerable, especially when you add them up over a couple of years. Although to keep them in perspective, they are less than most people spend on their cell phone or TV bills.

The right question to ask is what the potential value is, that might justify these costs. We have not tried to quantify these, but the things the companies talk about, which sound right to us, are:

  • keeping chronic diseases under control so they do not get worse;
  • avoiding emergency trips to the ER (or hospital admission) when you have had too many or too few meds — and complications arise as a result;
  • staying in your own home longer (poor medication adherence is a major cause of admission into institutional care);
  • saving money on caregivers (if a paid caregiver is spending time filling your medication, maybe they need less time with one of these machines than with whatever you do today).

 

Sensitivity to Surroundings

The robot pill organizers (Hero, MedaCube, Livi), due to their complex internal mechanisms, have some constraints on where they can be used that the more traditional systems like the MedMinder or Philips do not.

The robot pill organizers (and the Tabsafe and probably the Pria) do not like excessive humidity (do not install them in the bathroom). And some of them have some limitations on the elevation they function at (ask about this if you live high in the mountains).

 

Power & Battery

The GMS seems to work well without needing to be plugged into the power (it runs on 4 AA batteries), although it comes with an adapter that lets you plug it into the power outlet. We ran our unit solely on batteries, and they still worked at the end of the three month trial.

All the other products mentioned here need to be plugged into the power outlet. And all of them, with the exception of the Hero, come with some type of battery backup. Below are some details.

 

Product Backup Battery Life
MedMinder 48 hours
MedaCube 24 hours
Hero None
Livi 8 hours
Philips 18 hours
Pria 6 hours
MedReady 48 hours
Tabsafe 12 hours
CompuMed 7-10 days

 

The Companies

Of the products in this automatic pill dispenser category, two are sold by large, well known brands: Philips, and Black + Decker.

The Philips Medication Dispenser is in many ways the incumbent in the space. Philips is a very large, well regarded, multinational brand, and Philips Lifeline, the part of Philips that sells the medication dispenser, is one of the leaders in the medical alert marketplace. When we talk about medication management with physicians and pharmacists, it is common that they have heard of the Philips product but not of any of the others. And if you ask your local doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation, as a result Philips may well be what they mention.

Black + Decker — a household name — are marketing the Pria product, which is a new entrant to the market, developed by a startup called Pillo Health.

MedMinder first launched its Maya product in 2009, and in 2019 announced it was up to 50 employees. So, this is a well established small company.

PharmAdva (the company that makes the MedaCube) is a startup, spun out of the University of Rochester Medical Center. The study they shared with us showing the performance of the product was presented in 2016. Hero Health and Livi are relatively young startups. The first Heros were shipped in late 2018, and the first Livis were shipped in mid 2017.

TabsafeCompuMed, and MedReady are niche players specializing in the specific products in this study. We believe them all to be relatively small, but they have all been selling their products for quite some time. MedReady shared with us that there are "150,000 of our products out there", and that they have been in business for 20 years. The CompuMed product first shipped in 1990, and according to the company they have sold "thousands" of the units. Tabsafe first shipped in 2010, and according to the company has shipped 1,200 units.

GMS (Group Medical Supply) sells a broad range of relatively "low tech" products relating to medication (eg insulin bags), vision accessories, and more, and has been in business since 2005. 

 

 

 

Best Automatic Pill Dispenser for You: (Detailed Recommendations)

We considered each of these Life Situations:

  • Doing it All Yourself
  • Help from Someone Living with You
  • Help from Someone Who Lives Elsewhere
  • A Caregiver Does it All
  • Some Special Situations

Within each of these life situations, we considered situations in which one or other of the individuals (filler and dispensee) have physical impairments (hearing, vision, tremor, arthritis, mobility limitations) or cognitive impairments.

Go to Part 2: "Best Automatic Pill Dispenser for YOU" 

 

 

 

 

Other Products We Evaluated

In addition to the products mentioned above, we evaluated the Black + Decker Pria, the MedReady, the Tabsafe, and the Compumed. We thought these were less good choices for the scenarios we are considering for the following reasons.

The MedReady family of products has very similar features to the GMS product family but is significantly more expensive.

The CompuMed does not have any connectivity to the outside world and thus lacks ability to notify caregivers, or be programmed remotely, or send adherence reports to people. It requires manual filling by someone. It is rather expensive for its feature set compared to other products in this evaluation, and has a definite "dated" design appearance. One area of strength that may make it suitable in specific situations is a big focus on security. It is solid and locked. And variants are available with even stronger security (such as a safe it can be placed in). It is also much smaller than the high end products we evaluated (although not as small as say the GMS), and can come with a travel bag which would make it fairly easy to move from place to place — for example on a vacation.

The TabSafe is a powerful system able to handle a high level of medication regimen complexity. It's a strong competitor to the Philips in situations where there are complex medication regimens, the dispensee is really a "patient", and the professional caregiver can handle complex clinical systems like this one. However we think it is notably more complicated to operate for the "filler" than most of the other products we evaluated; and lacks some of the notification capabilities of the most modern products; and it does not have the capability the robot pill organizers have of "doing the organizing for you".

The Pria is a really interesting product, that is a blend between an automatic pill dispenser and a social robot. It has many features that none of the other products in this evaluation have: including face recognition; the ability to video chat with caregivers; and an engaging voice activated assistant (like Alexa) that can tell you the weather. However, when viewed purely from the point of view of medication management, it did not make our recommended list. On the one hand, its ability to handle complex medication regimens is limited by having only 28 pill compartments, and in that respect it is similar to the GMS or MedReady, but considerably more expensive. On the other hand, we thought its approach to assisted filling, while interesting, was less satisfactory than that of the robot pill organizers which are both much faster to load, and more flexible in terms of making changes. Black + Decker are marketing Pria as a "Home Care Companion", rather than a pill management device. Especially as the Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistant feature gets more powerful, we think this concept has great potential.

 

Buying these Products

At the bottom of the page are links to our "review" page for each of these products, on which are a lot more details about our evaluation. There are also links to each company's website, where you can acquire the products if you wish.

 

 

 

 

More About Medication Management & Adherence

 

 

References

(1) The pill we chose as a standard was on the larger side actually. It was oblong in shape and roughly 17mm long by 7mm wide. So, to avoid confusion, this is not "standard" in any widely acknowledged sense. It is just what we chose to use.

 

 


 

Detailed Reviews

Hero Medication Dispenser

Hero Pill Dispenser

MedMinder, Maya

MedMinder Maya

MedaCube Medication Dispenser

MedaCube

GMS Automatic Pill Dispenser

GMS Automatic Pill Dispenser

Philips Lifeline, Medication Dispenser

Philips Medication Dispenser

Black & Decker, Pria

Livi Medication Dispenser

Livi pill Dispenser

CompuMed Medication Dispenser

CompuMed Medication Dispenser

Tabsafe Medication Dispenser

Tabsafe medication dispenser

MedReady Medication Dispenser

MedReady, medication management, medication dispenser

*Disclosure: If you use the links above when you buy products we write about, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate or other affiliate program participant. This does not affect the price you pay.

Beyond this, we have no financial interest in the products discussed here, and this article is not sponsored or supported in any way by any product vendor. See How we Fund our Work.

 

 

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We hope you found this work useful. If you like what we do, and would like to see it continue, please consider contributing time, ideas, or some funding to help support our work.

We are currently raising contributions from those who find our work valuable to complete some new research initiatives, all targeted at helping older adults live better for longer. And we are always looking for contributions of ideas about what to work on, or help executing some of our projects.

Learn More: Help Support our Research.

 


 

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Last Updated: August 28, 2020.