Hero Medication Dispenser: Review

Hero Pill Dispenser

The Basics

Product name: Hero 

Manufacturer / Distributor: Hero Health

Compilation: Q1 2020

This page contains our Hero Health | Hero review.

 

 

Analyst Summary: Hero Health Hero

The Hero Pill Dispenser is designed to help you improve your adherence to the medication regimen prescribed by your healthcare providers. It does that by helping to organize your medication; remind you which pills to take and when to take them; and helping you to refill your prescriptions when you need to.

The big advantage of this product, and others in the family of "robot pill organizer / dispensers", is that they do the work of organizing your pills into different dose groupings for you. There is no longer any need to painstakingly sort pills into different sections of a pill box according to when they need to be taken.

This product was included in a comparative analysis of the entire class of automatic pill dispensers. If you are not sure yet whether this product is the one you need, that comparative evaluation should help you understand which pill dispenser will work best for your life situation. 

 

Which Medications Can It Handle?

According to the website "Hero can dispense pills of any shape, size, or texture. Hero, however, cannot dispense half pills, injectables, liquids, or soft gummies, like chewy children’s vitamins.". It does not handle liquid or non-room temperature medications, although it can "remind" you about them.

 

User Interface (UI)

One of the common scenarios in which these types of products will be used involve two different people. One, which we call 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, which we call 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 many scenarios, the filler will be a caregiver, or spouse, or adult child of the dispensee. However there will also be situations in which the dispensee also performs the job of the filler (i.e. when you worry about your own medication management instead of involving someone else).

The primary user interface for this product is via a set of buttons (a primary button and four "directional" smaller buttons) that control options on a screen on the front of the product.  You use the central button to "select" choices on the screen, and the arrows (smaller buttons) around the central button to move around the screen. For someone familiar with this type of interface (like our review team), it works pretty well. We worry that for the non-tech-savvy older adult, this may seem less intuitive than a touchscreen, but we did not do specific testing of that.

 

Hero Display and buttons

Caption: Hero User Interface.  NOTE: The product is an attractive shade of cream. Apologies for the poor lighting and imperfect coloring of this photo.

 

The system gets your attention with lights and sounds and various types of notifications (eg text messages).

The Hero pill dispenser comes with a companion "App". It can also be programmed using a web portal.

 

Programming Medication Schedule

The first step in using this product after setting it up is to enter in the specific medications, and the medication schedule that the Dispensee needs.

You enter this information using the App. If for some reason you don't want to use an App, you can program the medications and schedules on a web portal also. But that appears to lack some of the reporting features available in the App. The App is available for iOS and Android. The App has the look and feel of a modern App.

In our simple initial testing, for example, we chose three different medications to be administered each day at 8.00am. In later testing, we set up a much more complex schedule involving 10 different medications to be delivered in different groups at different times during the day.

We found the data entry process to be straightforward. You can just type things in. The App includes a medication database, and so when you start typing in the name of a medication the database recognizes several possible medications and gives you some alternatives to chose from. If you don't find the medication you need in their database, you can just create your own name for the medication.

Once you enter a medication regimen (multiple medications and the times and doses you need), the App communicates (without you needing to do anything) with the Hero system, and the Hero pings and the screen tells you that the medication regimen has been updated. You need to "confirm" that update by pressing a button on the system.

If you are just changing a dose or a time when you want the dose, you do not need to interact with the machine itself at all (apart from "confirming" the change as above). However if you add a new medication via the App, the Hero system prompts you to 'load new medications" and when you press the button in response it opens the door in its front and you take out a cup and pour in the new medication and replace the cup and close the door (see "Filling" below).

NOTE: Setting up medications and adjusting doses and dose timings all happens in the App. As far as we can tell, the system itself does NOT allow you to make changes to the medications or the medication scheduling.

 

Limits on Complexity of Regimen

A big advantage of the robot pill organizer / dispenser products is that they decouple the physical container system from the dosing regimen. Thus, unlike pill boxes and systems modelled on pill boxes, there are relatively few limits as to how many different doses can be delivered in one day.

This product can take up to 10 different "types" of pills. But each pill can be dispensed according to different schedules, and there can be many different "dose times" in a given day. According to the company, there is no limit to how many such dose schedules you can create.

 

Filling (Putting Pills into the Device)

In our opinion, how well the product handles the "filling" step is a key differentiator between various pill dispenser systems and smart pill boxes. The Hero does this well.

 

How Filling Happens

You use the user interface on the product itself (buttons and screen — see image above) which guides you through a simple process.

The first step of the process is choosing the medication to be filled. Then, you open a "door" in the front of the system, 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.

 

Hero Filling System

Caption: Hero Pill Dispenser being filled.

 

We found there were a few situations, such as when you want to refill the containers before they are quite empty, in which the workflow was a little confusing. However, when we ended up with different numbers of pills in the system than the system thought, as a result, we were able to manually correct the pill count in the App without difficulty.

In an interview with the company, we learned that they are about to add some improvements to the "Caregiver interface" which will likely improve the refill process. While this will be a nice improvement, even in its current form we felt it was quite adequate.

 

Capacity

The product can handle as many as ten different types of medications, and the containers are large enough to last for quite a while. For many medication regimens the system can easily hold a month's worth of pills, meaning filling could be once a month. See Automatic Pill Dispensers: Hands-on Evaluations for a chart with "capacity" comparisons between this and the competing products.

 

Medication Database, Scanner

As mentioned in the section above on using the App to add medications, the App comes with a built in database to help enter specific details about the medication. However it does not have any form of camera or barcode scanner that "recognizes" the pill bottle, or otherwise automates input of the medication.

 

Dispensing: The Interface for the Dispensee (person taking the pills)

The primary interface you see on the product is a screen and some buttons (see image above).

When it is time for a scheduled dose of medication, the Hero pill dispenser starts flashing and makes a noise (a sort of "ding") to alert you.  

You need to read the screen, which asks you to press the button to dispense your medication. After pressing (plus a second confirming press), the machine whirs for a bit (less than a minute), and then dispenses the medications which drop out the bottom into a small translucent cup.

 

Hero dispensing

Caption: "Time to dispense".

 

How it Communicates: Voice, Beeps, Lights etc

The Hero does not talk to you. It communicates via beeps and flashing light, and a notification via the App on your smart phone. Once it gets your attention, you are expected to read the screen.

 

Early / Late / Missed Doses / Flexibility

In between scheduled doses, the screen allows you to navigate to several "Dispense" options, including getting a "future dose", "skipped / missed dose" or ""As needed medication".

It allows you to keep "as needed" medications in the Hero also, and to set limits for how many of such pills it will dispense per day.

 

The Right Pills at the Right Time.

This product takes on multiple tasks, all of great importance to taking the right medications at the right time.

By design, it eliminates the step in which you painstakingly sort the pills into individual compartments according to when they need to be delivered. Instead, the internal mechanism of the robot picks up and dispenses individual pills from its internal bulk pill containers, as required by the entered medication schedule.

Once it has been filled and programmed, it:

  • dispenses the right pills at the right time;
  • alerts the dispensee that it is time to take the pills;
  • notifies the filler / caregiver if something goes wrong, either with its own dosing, or if the dispensee does not take their dose out of the machine when they are supposed to.

 

Separation between Dispensee and Filler Roles

In our view this was the one big weakness of this product, although it will matter only in situations where it is important to prevent the Dispensee from adjusting the medications.

There are two aspects to separating the interfaces for the filler and dispensee. The first part has to do with setting the pill regimen — telling the Hero system what to dispense when, and what pills are meant to be kept inside. This can only be done via the App, and so if the Dispensee does not have access to the App, then there is no issue about the Dispensee adjusting the schedule inadvertently.

And, of course, in situations where you are managing your own medications you have access to the App, and can do what you want.

The problem relates to opening up the pill containers and changing what pills are in the system.

The Dispensee can go the the system, chose the option "Pill Management", and then "Check Cartridge" after which they can pull out a pill container and make changes to what is in it. In situations where the Dispensee has cognition impairments, this may not be a desirable situation.

The Hero has attempted to address this, in that you can set a password that supposedly controls who can do certain things, and that would ideally prevent the situation we describe above.

However, in our testing if you navigate to a medication, and instead of entering a password on request you simply do nothing, after a short time the password screen goes away and the system allows you to open the pill compartment and lets you access the pills even if you don't know the password.

In an interview with the company (Jan 2020), we were told that a software update is in the works which will improve the whole Caregiver Interface, and we hope this will improve this situation.

 

Physical & Cognitive Impairments

For someone with reasonably good cognition, and no huge physical impairments, we thought this product was excellent.

However, we worry about how well it would work for people with impaired cognition.

There are two concerns. First, the interplay between reading the screen and navigating options using the scroll buttons seems to us likely to confuse someone who is easily confused. Second, due to the imperfect separation between Dispensee interface and Filler interface, we worry that people with cognitive impairment might accidentally navigate to the Pill management section and change the medications inside the machine.

When we discussed this with the company, they explained that they actually recommend against using the product for people with dementia. The company explained that this recommendation is "prominently displayed during checkout before purchases are made".

Bottom line: We were going to recommend a different product for people with dementia anyway, and Hero agrees with us on this. Having said that, there seems to us to be no great reason that software updates could not address these issues, and we look forward to seeing future iterations of this product that may be able to help dementia patients as well.

For people with tremor, poor eyesight, or severe arthritis, we have a concern that the combination of buttons and screen (with rather small writing) might prove challenging to navigate comfortably. However, we did not test this extensively.

 

"Time to Refill"

The product notifies you when supplies are getting low. The company even offers a "refill" capability, in which they integrate with a pharmacy and send you medications according to need, and controlled via the App. We did not test out this "refill" capability.

 

Set Up & Connectivity

Connectivity

The Hero system connects to the internet using WiFi. We found it relatively straightforward to connect to our local WiFi network.

 

General Setup

Setting the system up for the first time requires turning it on, pairing "your" product with the App (after downloading it) or via the web portal. As "setup" routines go, it seemed straightforward.

 

Portal or App

The portal is a lesser featured version of the App. The App allows you to see various reports. 

The portal we used does NOT seem to be set up with the idea that you would be monitoring multiple Hero units. It seems geared to an individual rather than to some type of professional multi-client useage.

The company told us that they have "other solutions" for enterprise clients, so we suggest you ask about those if you like the idea of using this product with multiple clients.

 

Remote medication adjustment

The App enables you to change medication timing and doses from anywhere in the world, so long as the actual pills are in the machine. Putting in a different type of medication requires you to be at the machine.

We can imagine situations where this might be quite advantageous. For example, when the adult child is the caregiver and lives somewhere else. On the other hand, you can imagine safety considerations relating to this too. If you consider acquiring this machine, you would want to do your own risk analysis about whether this feature is a plus or not in your specific situation.

Some of the caregivers we spoke with thought this seemed like an extremely desirable feature.

You can certainly imagine a use case in which a person needs help with a complex medication schedule, and requires relatively frequent adjustment of the timing of the doses, but perhaps not so frequent changes to the actual pills themselves. In that case, a caregiver might be able to make adjustments without needing a special trip to the house of the older adult.

 

Caregiver Monitoring

The product clearly has in mind the scenario of a caregiver or family member who is involved in helping to manage the medications of someone else (an older adult for example), as well as the scenario where you manage the meds yourself.

The App can send notifications if the dispensee has not taken medication at the right time, either using the App notification system, or by phone. And you can add multiple "caregivers".

 

Additional Features & Details

The overall look and feel of the product is very modern and "consumer-ish" — as distinct from "medical-ish".

It seems to have been thought about as "a tool for the dispensee", perhaps with some help from friends and family. This is in contrast to some of the prior generations of products that are clearly designed with the idea of "caregivers taking care of frail old people".

 

Security & Anti-tampering

Dispensee with Cognitive Impairment

The pill compartments in the system itself are locked by a key, but can be accessed via the buttons on the unit, as described under "Separation between Dispensee and Filler Roles" above.

This seems to us to be a potential problem in the situation of a dispensee with cognitive impairment who might get confused as to which compartment to open and when.

Adjusting medication schedules happen via the App, which can be limited to Caregivers if that is appropriate.

In addition, the controls for "Dispensing", and the controls for "Pill Management" are really just one button press away from each other. In the case when you are managing your own medication, this is a convenience. But in cases where the Dispensee is getting a lot of care and the caregiver is really the one who is managing the filling aspects, we think the design of the interface may well lead to some confusion.

 

"Others" Using your Meds

There is a separate situation which some of the products in this category worry about. That is the situation in which the wrong person takes "your" pills. A topical example is in the case of opioids, for example, where you do not want others with access to the house to be able to take "your" opioids.

As best we can see, this product does address this situation — by means of the password you can enter for a given medication. When it comes time to dispense, the medication does not get dispensed until after you enter a password. 

 

Hacking the System

Because it is connected to the Internet, it is theoretically possible someone could hack into and gain control of the system. When we brought this up with the company they told us they had gone to a lot of trouble to make the system resistant to such hacking. But it is always hard to know just what that means.

In our opinion, anything connected to the Internet is potentially hackable, and we would bet this product is no exception. It's like the decision to use a phone or a computer, or Alexa, or any other piece of useful technology. You make a decision whether the risk of being hacked does or does not outweigh the potential benefits. In this case the potential benefits are significant.

 

Power & Battery Backup

The system is designed to be plugged in to the power outlet. Unlike most of its competitors, it does NOT include a battery backup, and the company reccommends adding an uninterruptible power supply (like many people do for their computer). If your WiFi goes down when power is out, then the connection to the Internet (and thus caregiver alerts) will no longer work.

 

Vacations & Trips & Leaving the House

We went away for a couple of weeks while using the product. We simply turned it off and left it. When we returned we turned it back on, and it started working again immediately without needing any "set up".

It would be quite difficult to take the system with you on a trip. It is large and bulky, and definitely not something to go in your suitcase. Furthermore, the internal mechanism is apparently rather delicate and definitely not designed to be "luggable".

The product lets you dispense medications "early". It is relatively simple to have it dispense "multiple" future doses if you are going away for several days, but it is a bit tedious, as it dispenses each one at a time.

An extremely nice feature of taking the medications "to go" is that the App will still remind you it's time to take the medication, even if you are away from home. This is just the right functionality for the "out and about active older adult" in our opinion, and we don't think any of the other products in this category deal with this situation nearly as well.

 

Aesthetics

This product looks like a white hexagonal "tower", about 9 inches wide and 15 inches high. It does not scream "I am old and frail", which is great. The older adults we asked about its appearance thought it was quite stylish, although they felt all of the products in this category were "large".

 

Manual, Support, Training

There is a (paper) "guide / manual. It is fairly small and concise. But the design of the product is sufficiently good that we did not feel there was anything missing.

Languages: Documentation and the interface seem to only come in "English".

 

 

 

 

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About this Research

We have an ongoing initiative researching the tools that are available to help manage medication, and avoid the complications that accompany poor adherence. Our most recent research is a hands-on evaluation of a variety of complex medication management systems.

 

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Last Updated: April 30, 2020.