Best Automatic Pill Dispenser for You

Written By: Tech-enhanced Life Editorial Team.  Last Updated: April 22, 2020.

 

Which Medication Dispenser?

Caption: Left: MedaCube; Right: Hero; Top middle: MedMinder; Bottom middle: GMS.

 

It is too simplistic to talk of the "best automatic pill dispenser". But it is definitely appropriate to talk about the "best medication dispenser for a specific individual or life situation".

 

 

Different Life Situations Need Different Pill Dispensers

This is Part 2 of our rather extensive hands-on evaluation of automatic pill dispensers.

We found that we wanted to recommend several of the products — each for a different life situation. This page outlines several specific life situations, and explains which automatic pill dispenser we recommend for each of them.

If you just want to know what to buy, then you are in the right place, although it will make most sense if you read Part 1 first. If you want to read about detailed comparisons of all the features of these products in gory detail, you will find that on our hands-on evaluation page. Detailed reviews of the individual products can be seen at the bottom of the page (and on the right if you are on a big screen).

 

 

What is an Automatic Pill Dispenser?

Automatic Pill Dispensers 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.

The key components of most of these products are:

  • some type of alert or alarm that reminds you it is time to take your medication;. and
  • a system that helps you convert multiple bottles of different pills into small groups of "the pills you need for a specific dose" — without making errors.

The most sophisticated of these products — 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.

 

 

The Different Life Situations

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.

 

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.

 

Factors Relevant to Many Life Situations

 

Who does the "Pill Organizing"?

Most people will likely have a strong opinion as to whether they prefer to rely on the machine to "organize" the pills, or to rely on the pharmacy to do it, or to do it themselves.

We think a big reason to choose one of the more complex systems is to avoid the tedious and error prone task of organizing the pills yourself. In life situations below where several of our top picks are indicated, this is often a deciding factor for chosing either the MedMinder (and relying on the pharmacy to organize the pills), or the robot pill organizers (Hero or MedaCube) in which the machine does the organizing internally.

 

Types of Medications

The MedMinder (and the GMS) have some greater flexibility regarding the types of medication that they can handle compared to the other two top pick recommendations. The Hero and MedaCube cannot handle gummy medication, gels with liquids in them, or half pills (unless you put them into new capsules). For many, these will not be important limitations, but for some they may be.

 

 

Doing It All Yourself

This life situation is for an Individual Managing their Own Medications, without any help at all.

In other words, this section is for people who do everything themselves, including filling the products, ordering the medication from their pharmacy, and receiving the dose.

From our experience, people in this category with simple medication regimens will most likely prefer a simple pill box plus a reminder system of some sort. If they want a sort of "all in one" pill box and reminder system, the GMS Medication Dispenser might be a good choice.

However, for people with complex medication regimens (lots of different pills at different times), or people who start finding it increasingly challenging to just stay on top of it all, the automatic pill dispensers evaluated in this study can potentially make life simpler, and improve medication adherence.

Several of the products should work well for this life situation. We recommend Hero, MedaCube, and MedMinder for individuals who fall into this category.

There are some nuances that make each of these products better in specific cases, and if you read the more detailed discussions below, we explain these nuances.

 

Complex Medications and or a "Lot" of Pills. Good Cognition.

For people with lots of pills to manage and or medication regimens that are complex or change frequently, we think the robot pill organizer / dispensers make a lot of sense.

We think both the MedaCube and the Hero will work well for people like this. The MedaCube has some useful extra features, like the barcode scanner that can identify pills from their bottle and make data entry easier. But it is also more expensive. The Hero has an App you use to adjust medication rather than doing the adjusting on the machine or via a Portal as you do with the MedaCube. We thought both worked well.

 

Visual Impairments

Both the Hero and MedaCube require you to read a relatively small screen and interact with it, especially during the filling routine. This could be challenging for people with significant visual impairment, although no problem at all for people used to interacting with screens. The MedaCube has a very large green button you press when dispensing, and is likely more user friendly for people with visual impairment than the Hero — both because of font size, and because of the number of interactions you need to make between the screen and the buttons.

For the MedMinder everything is large, and if you choose the option to have a pharmacy deliver the pills in prepackaged trays, filling also does not require you to see anything too small.

People with very major visual impairment probably belong in a different life situation than this one (scroll down), in which they get some help with at least some aspects of medication management.

 

Physical Impairments & Mobility Issues

For people with tremor or fine motor control issues, we think either the MedaCube or the MedMinder are likely to work best. The Hero requires you to make multiple presses of various different buttons to navigate the menu and set up and fill the system. The touch screen on the MedaCube seems to us somewhat better suited to people with fine motor control issues. And the MedMinder requires only large macro-motions to operate it.

 

More Details

See our detailed reviews, and links to the companies' websites:

 

Help from Someone Living with You

This life situation is for an Individual Who Gets "Help" with Medication from Someone Who Lives With Them (Spouse, Adult Child).

For situations in which the medication regimen is simple and changes relatively infrequently, and in which the "filler" is good at putting pills into the right compartments and is available to do so regularly and does not find doing that a bother, then a simple product like the GMS may be sufficient.

But if the filler needs some relief from their tedious pill filling task, or if one worries about possible errors by the filler, then one of the more complex systems in this study make sense.

We think the MedaCube or the MedMinder will be the best solution in this situation. The Hero might also work well, so long as the Dispensee has no signs of cognitive impairment.

We think the MedaCube and MedMinder (Jon rather than Maya) have features that make them best suited to situations in which the "dispensee" exhibits memory problems or confusion.

The things to think about in choosing between the "robot organizers" (MedaCube or Hero) and the MedMinder in this situation are as follow.

  • Will the person taking the medication adapt better to a system that looks and feels like a large pill box, or to one of the robot pill organizers that seems more "cutting edge" but less familiar?
  • Does the filler prefer the idea of pouring the pills into the system every month, or of getting prefilled trays from the pharmacy? Doing it yourself (eg the MedaCube or Hero) leaves you more in control, which some will see as a good thing and others will see as a negative.
  • If you expect frequent changes to a medication regimen, then the MedaCube and Hero are definitely easier to adjust schedules.
  • If you need more than 4 doses per day, one of the robot organizers (MedaCube or Hero) are the way to go.

So long as the Dispensee is not doing the "filling" we think either the MedaCube or the MedMinder work well for situations where the Dispensee has fine motor control issues or tremor or arthritis. The MedMinder is probably the best suited to situations where the Dispensee has major vision impairment, although the MedaCube is close behind it.

If you choose the MedMinder, remember that if you need to lock the system and prevent the Dispensee accessing the "wrong" pills, then you need the MedMinder Jon rather than the MedMinder Maya (which we evaluated).

 

More Details

See our detailed reviews, and links to the companies' websites:

 

 

Help from Someone Who Lives Elsewhere

This life situation is for an Individual Who Gets "Help" from Someone Who Lives Elsewhere (Child, Professional Caregiver, Friend).

Most of the same thinking applies to this category as to the one above, in which the "help" comes from someone living with the person taking the medication.

The additional things to consider are these.

 

Adjust Medication from Afar

If you like the idea of being able to adjust the medication from a distance — rather than only when you are physically at the machine — then the Hero and MedaCube have big advantages. You can use their Apps / web portals to change dose times, and numbers of pills, from anywhere in the world. The MedMinder has much more limited adjustability. From afar, you can change the times of the four doses that the MedMinder allows. But you cannot change anything about the medication itself, although you can contact the pharmacy and have complete control over what comes in the next weekly or monthly package from the pharmacy.

 

How Often do you Need to Refill?

If the "Helper" lives at a distance, then the frequency with which you need to refill the system becomes an important detail. The robot pill organizers (Hero or MedaCube) have much larger total capacity than most of the other products we recommend. It seems very realistic in most situations that you would only need to fill them once a month. Or maybe even less frequently in situations where the regimen is simple.

 

More Details

See our detailed reviews, and links to the companies' websites:

 

 

A Caregiver Does it All

This life situation is for an Individual Whose Medication is Entirely Managed by Someone Else (eg Professional Caregiver).

This is the situation in which a "Caregiver" fills the medication dispenser, and also receives the medication from the dispenser and hands it to the individual taking the medication. The "someone else" may well be a paid caregiver of some type.

In this situation, the details of which system will work best have more to do with the skills and education of the Caregiver than anything else. And in situations in which the caregiver is a professional, other issues (such as being able to manage multiple systems from a portal) come into play.

Specific recommendations for this situation are outside the scope of this article. If you are in this situation and want some help or advice deciding what product to use, contact us via the contact form (see footer) and ask if we can help.

 

 

Special Situations

There are some Special Situations in which some of the other products we evaluated — like the Philipsor the TabSafe, or the Livi, or the Pria, or the CompuMed — may sometimes be the right choice.

For most situations we still would recommend our top picks (above). But:

  • if the Caregiver is a "professional" and has been trained to operate the Tabsafe or the Philips, and ease of filling is not relevant for some reason, then one of those two products may be appropriate.
     
  • if the Dispensee has significant cognition issues, and really needs as simple and clean an interface as possible, the Philips may be a good choice, although the MedaCube appears to have been used with success in moderate to severe dementia.
     
  • if you need a robot pill organizer, but need very large capacity (bigger than the Hero or the MedaCube), and the Caregiver can be trained to handle the complexity of the Livi pill container assembly, then the Livi might be the right choice.
     
  • if security of the pills matters above all (for example in situations with narcotics, and individuals who will try very hard to take extra doses when they should not), the CompuMed has been used in a variety of high security situations, and can even be padlocked inside a sort of "safe" if extreme measures are required. And the MedaCube incorporates features like a tilt sensor, to help warn a caregiver if there is "tampering".
     
  • the Pria might be a good choice if the older adult in question is currently not into video calls but quite likes the idea of chatting with their daughter and being able to see the grandkids; does not already have an Alexa but is willing to try interacting with an AI; needs a bit of help with remembering medication but does not have a super complex medication regimen; and is finding a conventional "pill box" is not quite sufficient to enable successful management of their medication by itself.
     
  • if the product will be used by a homecare agency or healthcare system, or senior living facility, there will likely be all sort of issues beyond those we have considered here. For example, dashboards for population health management might become important. We have not tried to evaluate which products will work best in those situations in this article, and if you need help with this situation, contact us.

 

 

Buying these Products

Below are links to our "review" page for each of the "top pick" products, on which are a lot more details about our evaluation. Below are also links to the company's websites, where you can acquire the products if you wish.

 

Detailed Reviews

Hero Medication Dispenser

Hero Pill Dispenser

MedMinder, Maya

MedMinder Maya

MedaCube Medication Dispenser

MedaCube

GMS Automatic Pill Dispenser

GMS Automatic Pill Dispenser

*Note: If you use the links above to buy yourself one of the products we explore on this page, we (sometimes) get a small percentage of the sale from Amazon / the Manufacturer. We use this to support our research. It 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.

 

 

Help Support our Research

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.

 

Reader Comments: "Best Automatic Pill Dispenser for You"

 

from Mindy Renfro (member) at February 06, 2020

Wow!!!  What an amazing, cutting edge, user friendly website with ALL information and considerations covered!  I continue to be so impressed by the quality of your work that is so needed by so many.  

Many thanks and kudos, Richard. 

Mindy

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Last Updated: April 22, 2020.