NEWS | November 6, 2018

High-tech pill bottle cap sends electronic reminders

New pilot project prompts kidney transplant patients to take their medication

Jeff Lebrun
Jeff LeBrun shows the clinical pharmacy team how to use the digital medication reminder system he developed.

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — A new pilot project will give some UC Davis Health transplant patients the chance to use a special pill-bottle cap that alarms, texts and calls when they need to take a medication that reduces the likelihood of organ rejection. The caps, known as Pillsy, also send medication-use information to care teams for viewing on a computer and patient follow-up.

The pilot is offered through the Refill Adherence Medication Program, an initiative of the transplant clinical pharmacy team to reduce barriers to medication compliance. One hundred patients who had kidney transplants at least six months prior will receive the immunosuppressant medication tacrolimus in a bottle with the high-tech cap.

There will be no extra costs for participating patients, since the pilot is funded by a private donation and grant from the UC Office of the President.

First-time use with transplant patients

Pillsy was developed by Seattle-based entrepreneur Jeff LeBrun, who came up with the idea for cloud-based, remote prescription monitoring after consistently forgetting to take his allergy medication.

This is the first time the product is being used with transplant patients, whose prescription protocols are lifelong, complex and can involve as many as 20 drugs. Forgetting doses, especially doses of immunosuppressants that protect transplanted organs, can have disastrous outcomes.

“Unfortunately, research shows that about 36 percent of patients nationwide lose their transplanted kidneys at least in part because of non-adherence to their medication protocols,” said Jessica Volpendesta, a clinical pharmacist with the transplant team.

pill bottle

Reducing organ rejection has huge benefits because of the shortage of kidneys available for transplant. There are more than 100,000 people on kidney transplant waitlists but only about 17,000 kidney transplant surgeries in the U.S. each year.

“Our hope is that twice-a-day reminders to take tacrolimus will encourage adherence with all medications, since most can be taken at the same times,” Volpendesta said. “If data from the pilot program shows that it works, then we may be able to expand the use of this technology.”

At UC Davis Health, dedicated clinical pharmacists and technicians are part of the patient care teams in transplant and seven other specialties. The health system also is home to one of the nation’s leading kidney transplant programs. For more information, including details on how to become an organ donor, visit