A company that markets a pill cap with a built-in cellular connection puts a social twist on getting patients to take their meds.

The device, distributed at the pharmacy or in mail order, comes free to patients with their medications and connects to the AT&T network. Patients opt in to receive reminder services and have the ability to include others in their network. The caregiver of an elderly person being treated for Alzheimer’s could configure the device to alert a relative if the patient misses two consecutive days’ worth of their drug. With the patient’s permission, a physician office, clinic or local retail pharmacy can also be notified.

“We can use the call center to remind patients, ‘Hey you missed your medicine today. Take it when you get home.’ We can issue e-mails or SMS messages for cell phones. So it’s a reminder service on steroids,” said David Reim, SVP at Vitality, which markets the device, called GlowCaps.

While other medication reminder services have pursued a direct-to-patient strategy, Vitality relies on pharmacies to dispense drugs in GlowCaps. Chains bid on how many of the caps they can distribute and get paid each time they dispense a bottle with one. Vitality recently launched its program with Express Scripts, one of the largest pharmacy benefit managers, to distribute certain medications in bottles outfitted with its caps.

The device has been shown to lift adherence. Data from a Partners Healthcare study released last month shows adherence increased 27%. Patients adhered to medications 98-99% of the time when the pill cap’s reminder services, along with financial incentives, were used, according to data collected by the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners Healthcare.

“Across all bottles in the field, we see compliance above 85%,” added Reim. Compared to what he said is the going compliance rate of roughly 65%, plus or minus depending on the drug, “That kind of 20% improvement in compliance has ramifications for outcomes, sales and new sources of data.”

Since patients opt in, Reim said, GlowCaps may become a data platform for other services. Pharmaceutical brands could hire pharmacists to call on patients found to be non-compliant or leverage the data during physician detail sessions.

“Physicians over-predict their patients’ adherence,” he said. “We can actually bring them data showing how they are doing for a geography or region. The call to action would then be, ‘Talk to patients more about compliance, because they are not as compliant as you think they are.’ Now we can say, in a HIPAA-compliant way, ‘this patient needs additional intervention.’”

Reim also has a GlowCaps sell related to the patent cliff: “There’s no value that branded pharma can bring when it loses on cost…Put people on GlowCaps now—a year or two before the patent expiry—get them used to it and to the adherence reminders. And when the drug goes off patent, give patients the choice in the pharmacy to get the generic for $10 less, or stay on the branded drug for $10 more but get a GlowCap reminder system.”

Vitality is in discussions with several pharma companies on its reminder system, but Reim declined to name any. The company is offering pharma a pay-for-performance model—“we don’t get a dime unless we lift adherence or sales,” he said. The firm is also planning to introduce a syringe case for people doing home injections of biologic products.

Patients eventually will be willing “to pay for, or expect, that extra service out of their packaging,” Reim said.