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Device the size of a deck of cards reads patients' prescription labels

Talking about medication

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

OMAHA, Neb. -- Not all customers at Kohll's Pharmacy read their prescription bottles to learn about their medication. Some listen to them.

Pill bottles that can communicate have hit the shelves at the family-owned pharmacy as a way to serve visually impaired customers, including the elderly.

''The customers absolutely love it. It gives the patient a sense of independence,'' pharmacist Marty Feltner said.

The ScripTalk talking labels system, marketed by En-Vision America Inc. of Normal, Ill., uses an electronic reading device the size of a deck of cards to read a microchip imbedded in the prescription label.

A voice synthesizer in the device communicates the information on the prescription.

''You can prevent any mistakes from self-medication,'' Feltner said. ''You know that they (patients) are getting the right thing.''

ScripTalk isn't the only talking prescription device on the market.

There are others, including New York-based Asko Corp.'s Aloud Audio Labeling System -- which has been marketed for more than a year and a half, about as long as Connecticut-based Millennium Compliance Corp.'s Talking Rx device.

Each product uses a different technology.

The Aloud system uses an electronic disk attached to the pill bottle, which can be placed into an audio player that reads the disk's recording.

The Talking Rx system is an audio recording device attached to the prescription bottle that replays recordings when the customer presses a button.

The products range in price from about $15 for each Talking Rx device, to $175 for ScripTalk's electronic reader, plus a $1 charge on each microchip-embedded label.

The Talking Rx and Aloud devices can be recorded in any language, and a ScripTalk representative says bilingual labels may be in its system's future.

Product sales have been slow, with reports only in the thousands for both Aloud and Talking Rx. ScripTalk, which was first made available earlier this month at the Omaha pharmacy, sold a half dozen in its first two weeks of retail sales.

Manufacturers are hoping to pump up sales and see a reduction in customer cost through reimbursements from Medicare and other insurance.

''The individuals that need this product do not have the necessary means to pay for something like this,'' said John Dobbins, Talking Rx inventor.

''They are already shelling out hundreds of dollars a month for their medication.''

Insurance companies should cover the products because with increased adherence to medication they'll see decreased costs, with fewer emergency room visits because of adverse drug affects, he said.

Mary Dougherty of Clinton, N.Y., who works as a customer service assistant for the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, has been blind about 10 years from diabetes complications. She has been using the Aloud system for about a year and said it is well worth the $100 investment.

''I'm safe and secure knowing that I took the right pill and the right dosage,'' she said.

With an aging population that's growing, and more than 10 million visually impaired people in the United States, talking labels are something the medical community has been asking for to prevent dangerous mistakes.

An inability to read pill bottles can lead to taking the wrong pill at the wrong time or at the wrong dose; missing warnings to refrain from drinking alcohol, staying out of the sun or taking various over-the-counter drugs with the prescription; or even knowing when to call a doctor about side effects.

Talking labels save time for pharmacists who often must field a volley of questions from customers who are unable to read the fine print on pill bottles.

It also will keep patients from calling in the wrong prescriptions, causing the pharmacist to make time-consuming changes when they arrive at the store, Feltner said.

The labels can make it easier for some patients to stay in their homes or assisted living facilities instead of having to move to nursing homes.

''It improves their quality of life,'' he said.

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On the Net:

Kohll's Pharmacy: http://www.kohlls.com

En-Vision America's ScripTalk: http://www.envisionamerica.com/txindex.html

Asko Corp.'s Aloud: http://www.askocorp.com/aloud/faq.html

Millennium Compliance Corp.'s Talking Rx: http://www.talkingrx.com/

Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired: http://www.cabvi.org/



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