What if I told you that you could donate to charity by simply taking your medication as prescribed each day? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But, this is exactly what the DrugStars app allows you to do.
Are you intrigued? I was too. Read on for my full review of the DrugStars app and learn how you can get involved in the “Giving by Taking” movement.
What is DrugStars?
DrugStars is a patient adherence app that rewards patients for taking their medications. It was developed in Denmark by a professor called Claus Moldrup. The aim of the app is to try and reduce the negative outcomes that occur when people do not take their medicine as prescribed by their doctor.
Patient adherence is a massive problem and it is estimated that 125,000 preventable deaths will occur in 2018. That is a frightening figure. DrugStars is hoping to reduce this number by increasing patient adherence through its app.
Each day, the DrugStars app reminds you to take your medicine and rewards you with one star for each dose. One star is the equivalent of 1p/1cent. Once you have collected 50 stars, you can donate them to charity. Donating to charity automatically enters you into a monthly raffle to be in with a chance of winning a gift voucher.
You can gain additional stars by inviting your friends to join the app and by answering surveys. The data gathered from these surveys is then passed onto educational institutes in an effort to improve healthcare.
DrugStars pride themselves on being patient focused. They are not run by big pharma and the structure of their organisation ensures that they are not influenced by drug companies either.
Why I Was Interested In DrugStars
The concept of DrugStars immediately intrigued me. The idea of being able to give back and do something positive by simply taking my daily medication was appealing. Too often, chronic illness can leave me feeling robbed of my ability to do things. I liked the idea of a low-energy, quick and simple way of helping charities.
My Experience of Using the DrugStars App
I think DrugStars is a brilliant concept and the app itself appears simple, sleek and modern. That said, using the app didn’t feel completely intuitive to me. The menu looks uncomplicated, with only a few icons to choose from. However, there are no words or prompts to explain what each icon does.
There is a basic tutorial when you first open the app and it only took a little bit of exploring for me to get the hang of using DrugStars. But, those who aren’t tech savvy might find it takes a little bit of getting used to.
The Menu Explained
The top left icon on the menu allows you to invite friends to use the app and the top right leads to your profile information. Underneath, the pill icon takes you to the menu where you add medications and set reminders. The pill icon also shows the number of stars available to collect (these show up once you have been reminded to take your meds).
Next, the middle icon takes you to the charity donation section and it also displays the number of stars waiting to be donated. Finally, the bottom icon shows how many raffle entries you have and, when clicked, will bring up details about the raffle.
Adding my Medications
I found it simple to add my medications to the DrugStars app. To add a medication, you click on the top pill icon then click ‘add medication’. This is a straightforward step as there is a database of medications within the app, making most easy to find.
Once each medication is added, you then set the times for each dose. The app will send you a reminder at these times via push notifications. If you don’t take a medication at a specific time, you can leave this blank and you’ll still be awarded one star daily.
You can also review your medication to earn 50 stars. The medication survey took only a couple of minutes to complete. I was asked straightforward questions about how I found each of my medications.
For example, it asked how useful I found my medicine and if I experienced any side effects. I believe the idea behind these surveys is that they can be aggregated as patient feedback.
Verifying Your Medication
At the end of the survey, the app asks you to take a photograph of your medication as verification. This is where I ran into a bit of a problem with the app.
On my first attempt, I clicked the button to allow the app permission access to my camera but it skipped taking the photo and went straight back to the main menu. I repeated the survey and this time I was able to take a photograph but the app crashed. Thankfully, it worked on the third attempt.
I’m not sure if this is a known issue or something I was just unfortunate to come across. With my next medication, I was able to survey it and take a photograph without issue. I just wanted to mention this in case anyone else ran into the same issue. You just need to persevere for a bit if you do.
My thoughts On the Medication Survey
I like the concept of this data being used as aggregated patient feedback. I’ve taken a few different medications over the years and, unfortunately, they haven’t always led to a positive result.
I was prescribed the meds and then sort of left to get on with it with no way of providing feedback. In the end, it was up to me to go back to my doctor to say I was having problems.
Additionally, once I had gone back to my doctor I was simply told to stop taking the medicine. I’m uncertain if any useful record was kept about the side effects I experienced. This is, of course, information that would be useful feedback to drug companies and to patients alike.
As mentioned in the introduction, DrugStars hope to pass on their data to educational institutes in an effort to improve healthcare. So, I do hope the information DrugStars is collecting here will be of benefit to patients in the long-term.
The only suggestions I have regarding the survey is that it would probably be helpful to be asked how long I had been taking each medication. I can imagine that people’s experience with medications may change over time.
For example, side effects might be present initially but then settle down. Or, someone might find a medication effective initially but then that benefit wears off. I feel this is information that may be helpful if this data is being used for research purposes.
Finally, it would be good if there was some way to be kept updated about how the survey data is being used and if it leads to anything beneficial for patients.
In addition to reviewing medications, users have the opportunity to opt-in to participate in additional surveys and clinical trials. Each of which will be rewarded with 50 stars. I assume that these will only be available if you meet specific criteria. To-date, I am yet to be asked to participate so I cannot comment on using this feature.
My immediate thoughts though, is that I’d like to know upfront what I am contributing to and where the data is going. I’m happy to donate my time and experiences if it will benefit other patients but it is always good to know what you are actually participating in.
As explained, DrugStars is a patient adherence app. Therefore, the medication reminders play a significant part of the app experience. Each day, you will receive push notifications at the time you need to take your medications. After which, the number of stars you have earned will appear in the top pill icon in the app’s menu.
The app notification doesn’t disappear until you collect your stars. This is essentially how you check off your reminders. The first time I used the app, I wasn’t sure how to collect my stars. I kept clicking on the pill icon only to be taken to the screen where I add my medications.
I soon realised that I needed to click and hold down the button. The stars then dropped down into the charity giving icon. It would be good if this step was made a bit clearer. For example, a prompt could appear the first time you need to collect your stars.
The Reminder Feature May Not Be Sufficient For All
I have to admit that, personally, I would like the reminder feature of the DrugStars app to be a little more complex. Ideally, it would be nice to have a checklist where you tick off each medication as you take them and then be awarded stars.
I am the world’s worst for reading a notification, then putting my phone down and finishing whatever I am doing. It’s then too easy for me to forget if I actually took my meds or not. Hello, brain fog!
Right now, I use the native reminder app on my iPhone. I have to open the reminders app and check off each medication and supplement as I take it. So, in the above scenario, I can easily see if I have actually taken my pills or if I have simply looked at the notification.
It would be great if the DrugStars app was further developed to feature something similar. Collecting stars may be okay for people who take one or two meds. But, for those who take more, it might not fit your needs as it currently stands.
It would also be helpful to have a section dedicated to adding reminders for supplements. I think you are able to do this currently and you simply won’t be awarded stars for them. But, I feel the app would appear a bit cleaner if there were separate sections for medications and supplements.
Taking that idea a bit further, it would also be great if there was an area to add reminders for medical appointments, etc. Just so all reminders could be all in one place, negating the need for more than one app.
GIVING TO CHARITY
The bigger appeal for me, though, is the charity giving aspect of the DrugStars app. And, this is what will keep me using it. Once you have collected 50 stars, you can choose where to donate them. At the moment, the options are categories rather than specific charities.
This is because DrugStars is relatively new to the UK. They are looking to expand, grow and work with more charities. So, if you are reading this and are involved with a UK charity, be sure to reach out to DrugStars.
I believe once more charities are involved, users will be able to select specific charities to donate to.
The final feature of the app is a raffle. Each month, users of DrugStars are automatically entered into a raffle to be in with a chance of winning a gift card. The number of entries you have depends on how much you have donated that month. Each time you donate 50 stars, you gain one entry. It’s a nice, additional incentive to use the app.
who Funds the App?
This all sounds great but you might be wondering how it works. After all, no-one gets anything for free, right? The good news is that it costs nothing to participate in DrugStars as either a user or charity. The app is funded by Healthcare companies who convert DrugStars to money as part of their social responsibility campaigns.
Think of being like a modern-day, medical, Robin Hood movement.
DrugStars will also be funded by selling the app’s survey data. This is something they are open and transparent about. When I asked for more details on this, I was assured that DrugStars has to abide by strict data protection laws. User data and survey responses are stored separately and any survey data sold will be completely anonymous.
In regards to user data, the app asks for your name, email address, date of birth, gender and country of residence.
DrugStars are looking to sell aggregated survey data to government-funded research organisations. In turn, this will hopefully benefit us as patients.
My Overall Thoughts
Overall, I think DrugStars is a brilliant concept. I do feel that the app would benefit from being developed further, particularly in regards to the reminder feature. However, I believe the charity aspect of the app will keep me using it.
It’s easy to think that each individual user’s contribution will be small (since each star is the equivalent of 1p/1cent). But, if this movement gains momentum, charities only stand to benefit. As I write this, DrugStars have so far given £55,394 in donations. Hopefully, as more users join the app this number will soar.
I look forward to following DrugStars progress as they continue to expand and work with more charities here in the UK. I would encourage anyone reading this who takes medication to consider using the app.
What are your thoughts? Do you like the concept of the DrugStars app? Would you be likely to use it? Let me know in the comments below.
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