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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Now you don't need a pill to remember your pills

A "smart" pillbox helps patients remember to take their pills with real-time notifications--through flashing, beeping, e-mails, and phone calls.

Somewhere between one-third and one-half of all Americans take their medication at the wrong time, or at the wrong dosage, or simply forget altogether, according to a New England Healthcare Institute study released earlier this month (PDF).

Maya's retail price is $77.50 plus a $29.95 monthly subscription fee. MedMinder Systems.

MedMinder Systems to the rescue. The wisely named Newton, Mass.-based start-up is one of several companies working to develop the ultimate smart pillbox. Approximately the size of a textbook, "Maya" (the wisdom behind the box's nickname remains elusive) holds 28 small plastic cups that can be designated separately for different pill types and detailed regimens.

When a pill is due to be taken, a white light flashes beneath the specific cup, a friendly little "take me now!" reminder whose calm insistence bears some resemblance to Hal 9000. If the wrong cup is lifted, a low-level siren that ideally won't cause cardiac arrest informs the patient of the potentially egregious mistake.

If the cup has not moved in a half hour, Maya goes from Hal-like flashing to beeping, and her beeping grows louder and more insistent over time. Finally, depending on how the patient or person designated to help with the pills has programmed her, Maya actually calls by telephone or pings a designated e-mail in-box. And if this nagging doesn't cut it, a weekly or monthly report details how many doses the patient has missed so that improvements can be made.

The Boston Globe profiled this gadget over the weekend (price tag is $77.50 plus a $29.95 monthly subscription charge), and the accompanying video is worth a watch. You kind of have to see Maya to believe her.

I wonder what the pillbox will look like when I reach the age I need one. I keep hearing Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" drone on as mini DayGlo strobe lights make the pills look happy and alluring. I'd probably be forever indebted to its priceless advice, although I'd surely miss the simple days of Maya and her Hal 9000-like insistence as well.