For those who forget to take medications, Las Vegas tech startup offers help


PillDrill, a product designed to help people take their medications regularly and follow doctors’ orders on dosages, is shown in this submitted image. The product is the brainchild of Peter Havas, a former Bay Area chief technology officer who relocated to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas resident Peter Havas wants you to take your medicine, which sounds easy. But that simple task is more complicated in reality.

What Havas, a former chief technology officer at a sandwich company in California, really wants you to do is to take your medicine properly.

Numerous studies have shown that people often don’t adhere to their doctors’ orders. In 2012, Quest Diagnostics shared research suggesting that 63 percent of prescription-drug patients deviate from caregivers' instructions, taking non-prescribed drugs or skipping their treatments. Other estimates suggest that the issue of medical adherence causes 30 to 50 percent of treatment failures and is responsible for 125,000 deaths.

So being an entrepreneur and having recently moved from the Bay Area, Havas decided he would tackle the problem by creating a tech startup.

PillDrill, which launched this morning, uses a mobile application, a pill organizer and sensors to help people adhere to medical regimens.

The product has three goals — to remind, track and notify — with the ultimate mission of curbing medication misuse and improving medical care. At the center of the system is a hub that looks like an alarm clock and a traditional pill strip with AM and PM pods for every day of the week, in which users load their medication manually.

Each pod has a sensor that will record what medicine a patient has taken. To record that they’ve taken the medicine, users only need to tap the pod against the PillDrill hub. The sensors, in short, provide an easy way to keep track of whether or not a patient has taken a pill.

The goal was to make it as easy as possible to use, said Havas, who used his father ­— not a native techie — as a litmus test for its usability.

“If he can use it, there’s a pretty good chance most of the world can use it,” Havas said over coffee, before hopping on a flight to the Bay Area.

The product is unique, Havas said, because it addresses one of the biggest problems in getting patients to take their medicine: psychological barriers. People are embarrassed to leave a pill strip out, Havas said, and avoid taking their medicine for a variety of reasons. That’s why PillDrill put an emphasis on product design, centering the system around a hub that looks like an alarm clock rather than centering it on a pill strip.

“We actually paid attention to the psychology of it,” Havas said.

Patients can program alerts into the hub so that they are automatically reminded via email or push notification when they need to take their medicine or that they are late taking their medicine. It also has a feature that allows users to track their moods. And all of this information syncs to a mobile application so that caregivers can see their patients' progress.

While the product will be available online for pre-order, it will not immediately be available in retail stores. But that’s not an indication, Havas said, that the retail industry has given PillDrill poor reviews.

At a recent industry conference, the product was named the most innovative new product in the category of home health care, and Havas said PillDrill’s product received a flurry of interest after he pitched to dozens of retail buyers. And the company is backed by an experienced team. PillDrill’s chief product designer, for instance, worked at Amazon for eight years.

But for now, the startup is lying low. It has six employees scattered from Northern California to Australia, and though it is officially headquartered in Las Vegas, much of the company’s work is done through videoconferencing.

“We don’t need to go 100 miles per hour out of the gate,” he said.

For Havas, the issue of medication adherence is a personal one. Before moving to Las Vegas about two years ago, he worked as an executive for Specialty’s Café & Bakery. But he is originally from Australia, which disconnects him from his family. When his mother recently had a hip replacement a few years ago, he monitored her health on FitBit, a health tracker. A tool like PillDrill, which lets users share data with family members, would allow him to support her when it comes to medication as well.

At coffee, Havas pulled out his iPhone to demonstrate. He opened the PillDrill application and pulled up a page that showed which medicines his father had taken and which ones he had not taken that day. This, he said, would help nurture relationships between caregivers and their patients.

Companies like PillDrill are often criticized because they hold sensitive, personal information about their users. Some companies sell that data to marketing firms or to collect insights about customers. Havas dismissed such concerns and said the company had no plans to sell any personal information.

“We take privacy seriously,” he emphasized. “We’re not in the selling data business."