A spoonful of liquid crystals helps the medicine go down

Up to half of all medication is not taken in the way it is prescribed, meaning patients do not receive the correct treatment and expensive drugs are wasted.

Now a system designed to help elderly patients remember when to take their medication is being developed to tackle this problem.

The system, known as “My Health Tags”, consists of a reminder device with a display, which tells people it is time for their medication, and sensor tags fitted to each packet that register when the drug has been taken.

The display and tags are being developed by Folium Optics, a start-up company based in the Technology Business Incubator at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, with £1m funding from the Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare (SBRI Healthcare).

The reminder device is in the shape of a photograph holder, with a flexible plastic display screen.

The display consists of a layer of liquid crystals, inside which are coloured dye molecules. To display a message on the screen, the liquid crystals simply rotate the dye molecules, according to Steve Kitson, CEO of Folium Optics. “So depending on how we rotate the crystals, you either see the colour or you don’t.”

If the user does not respond to a message to take their medication within a set time, the display will begin to flash, followed by a beep if that prompt is also ignored, said Kitson.

Once the user does go to their medicine cabinet, each of their drug packets will be fitted with a smart tag, which either display the message “Don’t take now” or “Take now”.

The tags are equipped with a sensor to detect when the packet is picked up, at which point the display changes to prompt the user to press a button when they have taken their medication. Once they have done so, the message changes again to acknowledge this, said Kitson.

“The whole system is connected together wirelessly, so that information can be sent to the cloud, to be shared with a pharmacist, doctor, or loved one,” he said.