September 1, 2008

STAYING ON TRACK ; Norwell Company Offers System to Encourage Patients to Take Their Medicines


NORWELL - It's a question as old as medicine itself: How can doctors get their patients to actually take the drugs prescribed to them?

HealthHonors, a three-year-old company in Norwell, claims to have found the answer in a technology it's calling Dynamic Intermittent Reinforcement. The program has already earned the small company three major clients - including British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which reported last week that it would employ DIR.

The DIR program has also positioned the company, which is hunting for a larger office, for rapid growth.

The program is an interactive system that allows patients to call or log in via a computer to confirm they've taken their medicine.

Once a patient types in his or her pin number, an automated system congratulates the patient, provides educational information pertinent to the medicine they're taking and rewards them with a number of "points." These points, which increase or decrease based on the patient's adherence history, are accumulated and may be redeemed for health-related discounts or other rewards.

"Different people need different types of reinforcement to get them to change their behavior," said HealthHonors co-founder Dr. Murat Kalayoglu.

He said the DIR system uses algorithms to customize the program to each user: "We activate the fundamental reward circuits that get people to choose the healthy behavior day after day."

Kalayoglu, a resident of Boston, co-founded the company with Dr. Michael Singer of Newton in January 2006, about a year and a half after the two met while they served as residents in the emergency room of Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston.

The two found that their individual research specialties - Singer in neuroinformatics and human behavior and Kalayoglu in chronic disease - were complementary in developing a solution to the problem of making sure patients take their medicine correctly.

After a year and a half of development and clinical trials, HealthHonors commercialized the DIR program last fall and has seen strong revenue growth since that time, according to CEO John Sheehan, a Cohasset resident.

Last month, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging granted HealthHonors $300,000 to perform a clinical trial of the DIR platform. The study, which is expected to begin in October and last about a year, will be conducted with patients over the age of 55 at Yale University School of Medicine's primary care clinic in New Haven, Conn.

If the study goes as well as previous ones - which found patients who used DIR were 33 percent more likely to adhere to their prescriptions - it could help further establish the company as the place to go to make sure patients take their medicine.

"Between now and the fourth quarter next year, we'll probably double in size," Sheehan said.

HealthHonors employs seven people in about 2,400 square feet of space at Norwell Executive Center on Washington Street (Route 53). But Sheehan said the company plans to establish a more permanent headquarters, either in Boston or along the Route 128 corridor between Braintree and Woburn, by year's end.

"The ultimate end game is to provide access to every patient to this platform so they can live longer, healthier lives," Kalayoglu said.

A.J. Bauer may be reached at [email protected]

Originally published by By A.J. BAUER, The Patriot Ledger.

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