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How Do Automatic Pill Dispensers Work?

No one was to blame. People get confused with drug store bottles all looking the same. Still, a simple medication mix-up is probably what led to my grandfather’s death. I was only a teenager, so I had no say in the matter. If it were up to me, he’d have had an automated pill dispenser.

A “medication reminder and tracking system” is an automated pill dispenser that has some combination of these features:

  • helps you to remember to take meds on time
  • helps to prevent medication mixups
  • reminds you to take meds with or without food, as prescribed
  • can be programmed to stay locked if it’s not time for any new doses
  • can alert caregivers if meds are not dispensed
  • can be monitored remotely
  • can be paired with a medical alert call-for-help button

How the pill dispenser helps the caregiver:

  • reduced time obtaining pills (if using a pre-filled box service)
  • reduced time sorting pills
  • eliminates charting pills

How the pill dispenser helps the patient:

  • convenience of timed medication
  • fewer forgotten doses
  • not taking too little or too much of a dose
  • taking the right meds at the right time
  • locked out of dosing too soon
  • eliminates mixing up medications

An Automated Prescription Dispenser Replaces the “Medication List”

An “Automatic Pill Dispenser” frees you from charting medications on paper or in a spreadsheet. You use the interface to tell the machine what you’re taking, how much, and what time. Some dispensers also keep track of whether to take the meds with or without food. If you charted this info on paper or in a spreadsheet, you can hand over that work to the dispenser.


MedMinder integrated computer screen

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Is an Automatic Pill Dispenser Worth the Investment?

An Automatic Pill Dispenser service allows you to trade money for time and safety. It saves the caregiver the time it takes to obtain the meds, sort them, and place them into pill boxes. It prevents overdoses, under doses, taking the wrong pill, and mixing meds that shouldn’t be mixed.

How Do Automatic Pill Dispensers Work?

An Automatic Pill Dispenser Enhances Medication Compliance

The dispenser can keep the patient on track. Many people keep medications in the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. An Automatic Pill Dispenser puts the meds in one device and in one location. It sounds an alert when it’s time to take the medication, and it locks the compartments when it’s not time to take a medication. These keep the patient on track to take the right medications at the correct times.

An Automatic Pill Dispenser Reduces Medication Mistakes

With prescription bottles all looking the same, it’s easy to take the wrong drug or the wrong amount. It’s easy to take drugs together that should be taken separately. An Automatic Pill Dispenser keeps prescription takers from making these mistakes:

  • not eating when the prescription requires food
  • eating when the prescription requires an empty stomach
  • take drugs together that have a negative interaction
  • taking drugs at the wrong time
  • forgetting to take doses
  • taking too many doses

What Does an Automatic Pill Dispenser Cost?

Automatic Pill Dispensers come in three pricing models:

  • you rent it with no upfront cost
  • you have a small upfront cost and larger payments
  • you have a large upfront cost and smaller payments

To compare the three pricing models, use “total cost of ownership” over the course of the first year, then all years after the first year.

Dispenser Rental total Cost of Ownership

Let’s say a rental dispenser costs $50/month with no other fees.

  • The cost for the first year is: 12 months x $50 =$600 the first year
  • Te cost for subsequent years is: 12 months x $50 = $600 / year

Dispenser Small Upfront Cost Total Cost of Ownership

A hypothetical dispenser costs $300 up front and $50/month.

  • The cost for the first year is: $300 up front fee plus (12 months x $50) = $900 the first year
  • The cost for subsequent years is: 12 months x $50 = $600 per year

Dispenser Large Upfront Cost Total Cost of Ownership

A hypothetical dispenser costs $600 up front and $25/month.

  • The cost for the first year is: $600 up front fee plus (12 months x $25) =$900 the first year
  • The cost for subsequent years is: 12 months x $25 = $300 / year


med e lert week daysWhat’s the Downside to an Automatic Pill Dispenser?

  • Automatic Pill Dispensers cost money up front or over time, or both.
  • Some Automatic Pill Dispenser’s don’t deal well with liquid and gummy medications.
  • To get pre-sorted pill containers, you need to switch to the dispenser company’s pharmacy.

How to Fill an Automatic Pill Dispenser

Recommended Pill CaddyI’ve been using the same multi-color 4-tier pill box for ten years now. It allows me to sort my pills into compartments. The four rows are my morning, afternoon, dinner and bedtime boxes. The 7 columns are the seven days of the week. Every week, I pull my bottles down to fill up these boxes. There’s plenty of room to put the wrong pill or the wrong quantity of pills in any of the compartments.

  • With a basic Automatic Pill Dispenser, the caregiver or senior fills the compartments just as if she were using a non automated pill box.
  • Up the ladder a notch, you can get an Automatic Pill Dispenser that allows dropping an entire bottle into the machine for sorting. You tell the dispenser about the prescription and put the contents of the prescription into a hopper set aside just for that pill.
  • At the high end, you change pharmacies to the Automatic Pill Dispensers affiliate pharmacy to fill the dispenser for you. A pharmacist fills your prescriptions, sorts the pills into the dispenser tray, and sends the tray by courier or mail to you.

MedMinder pill compartments

An Automatic Pill Dispenser Can Be a Smart Nurse

A good nurse dispensing medicine would never give you your pills ahead of schedule. Automatic Pill Dispenser’s with the lockout feature prevent pill access until it’s time. This is especially important if your charge has memory problems. If you’re taking care of someone who repeats herself, or doesn’t always know where she is, the lockout feature will prevent her from taking meds she forgot she already took.

medready dispenserAn Automatic Pill Dispenser Can Be a Patient, Persistent Nurse

That good nurse would not let you leave your meds on the table, either. An Automatic Pill Dispenser will use audio and visual messages to remind the patient to take her pills. Of course, you have to use this feature within rational limits. That is because the machine knows when a compartment has been emptied. It cannot see if the pills are actually swallowed.

med e lert pill dispenser

Caregivers Can Program Automatic Pill Dispenser Refills and Read Compliance Reports

An Automatic Pill Dispenser such as MedMinder keeps usage records. Caregivers with access to the Automatic Pill Dispenser website can login to see when pills were pulled from the machine. Reports also show tray refill times missed medication times. This interface is also where the pharmacist or caregiver programs the dispenser with prescription information.

MedMinder medication dispenser

What Features Do You Need in an Automatic Pill Dispenser?

All Automatic Pill Dispensers sort and dispense medications. After that, you need to make some decisions.

Is the Visual Display Easy to Read?

You might want to look for a dispenser that caters to lower vision users. Some Automatic Pill Dispensers have bright and clear displays, while others have dark type on a dark background. Even people with good eyesight should have difficulty with that setup. Distinguish between the eyesight of the person programming and filling the machine, and the person receiving medications from the machine. Different levels of eyesight apply to each activity.

rxpense pill dispenserDoes the Pill Dispenser Cater to Memory, Vision, and Hearing Impairment?

If your patient has memory issues, the pill dispenser should repeat the timer until the appropriate pill box is emptied. Automatic Pill Dispensers use audio and visual cues to tell the person to take their pills. Does the pill dispenser get louder each time it’s ignored? Is it loud enough for the user to hear? Does the visual cue output enough light or change for the vision-impaired user to see it? Some Automatic Pill Dispensers have video chat built in so that the caregiver can have a remote video meeting with the patient. “Mom, take your pills. Mom! Do you hear me?” Short of being in the home with the patient, the video chat is as close as you can get.

Is the Pill Dispenser Easy to Use?

Will the senior getting pills out of the dispenser be able to navigate the process? Is there a series of buttons or just one large button to press? Or does the box just open and wait to be emptied? The patient with visual or movement issues needs to be able to acknowledge the alarm and get the pills out of the dispenser.

What Forms of Medication Does the Automatic Pill Dispenser Dispense?

All Automatic Pill Dispensers dispense even large pills. Some only dispense pills, though, and not other forms. Some Automatic Pill Dispensers cannot dispense pills you cut into pieces to get a lower dose. Most cannot deal with medications that melt at room temperature or are meant to be taken as liquid. When Automatic Pill Dispensers don’t handle certain types of meds, they can still offer alerts to retrieve these meds from the fridge or other container at the right times.

Does the Automatic Pill Dispenser Work on Electricity? Does it Have a Battery Backup?

A power outage will render the Automatic Pill Dispenser useless. If you are worried about this scenario, look for an Automatic Pill Dispenser with a battery backup.

sagely smart xl pill organizerWhere Do You Program the Automatic Pill Dispenser?

Automatic Pill Dispensers are programmed at the box dispenser screen or on a dedicated website. Look for a programming interface that won’t easily accept bad input making you start the programming all over again. For each pill, it should ask you the time of day, without or without food, the dose size, and the drug name. If the interface has large buttons and a forgiving input system, you might be happy programming that. But if it’s annoying to enter the info, you will probably want a dispenser with a web interface. You will need to connect the dispenser to the internet to create your dispensary profile online.

Do You Want to Remotely Monitor the Automatic Pill Dispenser?

If you want to see dispensing reports to check for missed doses, then you will get an internet-programmable Automatic Pill Dispenser. Some come with detailed reports about both filling the tray as well as what was dispensed. Over time you can see patterns in these reports that might help you improve medication compliance.

medcenter pill reminder talking alarmHow Many Pills Can the Automatic Pill Dispenser Dispense?

For seniors with large pill amounts at any given time, you will need an Automatic Pill Dispenser with large pill compartments. You could potentially program an Automatic Pill Dispenser to output two compartments at the same time. You would have to check on this before purchasing.

mecenter pill0dispenser

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