AARP, tech firms to test voice-based health tools among senior set

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Two voice technology startups are partnering with AARP to personalize care for older patients with diabetes.

Pillo Health and Orbita are planning to study diabetes-care management for AARP members who are 50-plus in the Boston area this summer.

The companies will observe whether Pillo's countertop robot, which has AI-driven voice-first technology and facial recognition, can improve remote patient monitoring and reduce social isolation in this population. 

Pillo wakes up on its own to notify patients that it's time to take their medicine. A patient must verbally respond to Pillo's questions for the correct medication and the proper dose to dispense. If a patient has questions about whether to take the medication with food or at a specific time, Pillo, which is HIPAA-compliant, can provide the answer. 

“All that stuff may seem trivial, but it can be daunting for someone who is older and managing multiple chronic illnesses. Pillo can demystify all of that with its interactive screen, instructions, videos, and content,” said Andy Miller, SVP of innovation and product development at AARP.

Orbita's voice platform is being used to ensure the automated homecare companion smoothly engages with a caregiver or patient in any number of healthcare scenarios, such as medication adherence or check-ins with caregivers.

“We are going to deliver personalized and relevant diabetes content to patients in a very innovative and unique way,” added Pillo Health CEO Emanuele Musini.

AARP was connected with the startups via the second annual PULSE@MassChallenge digital health accelerator, which paired 32 finalists with “champion” companies to complete a project. Orbita and Pillo Health were paired with AARP last December.

Musini said he began working on the idea for the robot at his previous company after his father passed away. He wanted to create a device that would both empower older adults with chronic conditions to live more independently and to help with medication adherence, he said.

“I started researching why people don't do what they should for their own health, specifically why don't they take the medication as prescribed and follow their care plan. The idea with Pillo was to build ‘someone' that would be inside the home,” he explained.

The companies said they are planning for a soft launch in the fourth quarter for the diabetes care journey and are exploring the potential for additional modules, such as a healthy heart care journey. 

Musini hopes caregivers purchase Pillo and place it in the home of a loved one. Not only might this encourage older patients to be engaged in their own health but, in theory, the device may relieve some of the pressure caregivers feel to always be present.

Musini also touted a convenience factor. “Producing unique data from inside the home allows us to immediately alert the right people. We can start telemedicine [consults] right there from the screen,” he said.
As for medication adherence, Pillo comes with two methods for filling the medication cartridge. Users can either physically place all the pills inside the product or they can choose to order a pre-packaged cartridge. 

“If you have a pill box, you may put the wrong pill in. All that human error can be reduced with a pre-packed cartridge inside of the device,” Miller noted.

Much like an Amazon Alexa, the goal is for consumers to view Pillo as “a lifestyle device,” one that includes healthcare functionality, said Orbita CEO Bill Rogers. Its HIPAA-compliance means users might not have to worry as much about Pillo's privacy or security. 

The device may also help consumers to combat depression or loneliness. Whether it's checking the weather or making a video call, Pillo allows them to stay plugged in while using just one piece of technology, Rogers pointed out. 

He added that oftentimes, children of elderly patients with chronic conditions are in charge of making sure medication is taken. As the product assumes some of the conversations about medication adherence, families can spend more time conversing about other topics.

“We know that loneliness can contribute significantly to health decline,” the CEO said in a statement. “Digital assistants can provide greetings and positive affirmations and, beyond this, deliver daily reminders to take medications and perform important care tasks.”

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