For patients prone to forgetfulness, technology is replacing the string around the finger.

Richard Burke Jr., chief executive of RX Timer Cap, thinks his custom pill bottle cap can help keep people on their medication schedule. The trick? Each time the cap is popped, a timer resets to zero. If you look back exactly four hours later, the cap’s timer will display “04:00,” so you know how long ago you took your last dose.

The Thousand Oaks company, which has eight employees, spent last year working out manufacturing problems, and the caps are now being tested at pharmacies in Washington state, where Burke made his first distribution deal with the Bartell Drugs chain, before unrolling nationwide later this year. RX Timer will also start selling to pharmacies on the company’s website in July. The company recently raised $1 million in venture capital.

RX Timer launched in 2009 after Burke sold a nutritional supplements company. A friend of his had heard a talk by the cap’s inventor, and Burke bought the patent, smitten by the a-ha factor.

But instead of selling the caps retail, as was the inventor’s plan, Burke decided to take them wholesale to chains such as CVS and Costco, which could use the caps as a promotion to bring in new customers.

“It’s cheap enough to be given away. It’s profitable because the retailers experience an increase in prescriptions,” Burke said.

At $3.50 each, Burke’s cap is a lower-cost but lower-tech alternative to GlowCap, developed by L.A.-based Vitality Inc., which sells for $99. GlowCap, which uses a Wi-Fi connection, social media and ring tones to alert patients that it’s time to take their meds, is owned by L.A. billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Proponents of smart caps say they can reduce long-term health-care costs by preventing patient negligence and overdoses. But the smart cap field is too new for these claims to be backed up by research.

“There isn’t a lot of good evidence that they increase compliance over a long period of time,” said Geoffrey Joyce, an expert in health-care economics at the USC School of Pharmacy. “We can only infer that there are costs savings and benefits downstream.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.