As stated in my product review policy, my reviews will always be honest.
I recently received an email with the following idea: Imagine if every dose of medicine taken worldwide generated a donation to better healthcare. That is the vision of the DrugStars global movement. The statement certainly perked my interest, so I set out to learn more.
DrugStars is a global patient movement founded by Claus Møldrup, who holds a PhD in pharmacy and previously worked as a professor of social pharmacy at the University of Copenhagen. The DrugStars app was launched in Denmark in January 2017. It has recently expanded to the United States and United Kingdom and it's available for Apple and Android.
The app enables patients to earn “stars” every time they take their medication as agreed with their doctor. Patients can also earn stars by reviewing their medications and signing up for news on surveys and clinical trials. The stars can then be donated to patient charity organizations, who receive real money in exchange for the stars. The app is free for patients to use - donations are sponsored by private companies.
The app tries to make it “fun” to take your medications, but has a serious intention: to change healthcare through the use of large amounts of anonymous data representing the voice of real patients. This patient insight data is made available as open source for non-profit patient-focused scientific research and on commercial terms to commercial organizations for well-defined patient-important purposes.
Once you download the app, you register each of your medications and the day/time your doctor instructed you to take each of them. After that it's super easy! You get a reminder on your phone whenever it's time for a dose. Once you take your medications, you simply tap the top button to collect your stars. Participation also earns you tickets to healthcare raffles, such as a Spafinder gift card. When you have collected at least 50 stars, you can donate them to the charity of your choice.
I don’t generally have a lot of use for medication reminders. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s at the age of 5, so I’ve been taking medication almost every single day of my life. At this point, meds before bed is simply part of my routine. However, my pregnancy has required the addition of some supplements that have to be taken at odd times. I currently have to take an iron supplement twice a day – but to make sure the iron is properly absorbed I have to take the supplements away from meals and not at the same time as my prenatal vitamin – which leaves me taking medications at least three times a day right now. With the kids out of school for the summer my schedule just hasn’t been consistent, making remembering to take everything properly a real challenge. So I actually have found the DrugStars app to be very useful in reminding me to take ten seconds for my meds a few times a day!
I do like that the app allows you to decide where to donate your stars, but I wish the choices were a bit more specific. There are 12 categories to choose from – rheumatic diseases (i.e. “support associations that aim to prevent and relieve the consequences of rheumatic diseases”), mental illness, cancer, diabetes, asthma and allergies, headache disorders, heart diseases, digestive disorders, dermatological disorders, stroke, kidney diseases, and liver diseases. Beyond that, the app doesn’t actually name the charities in question – and I couldn’t find that specific information on the website either. It would be really nice to know which charities are actually receiving these funds and have an opportunity to learn more about them. This may be part of the intention of the app, because after making my last donation I did get an email from DrugStars saying that I could go to the charity's page within the app and touch “become a member.” However, I personally couldn’t find that feature within the app (here's what the charity's page looked like within the app for me).
I also wish monetary impact was a bit easier for users to determine. You can easily see how many stars you have personally earned, how many stars have been donated to a particular charity category, and the total value of donations given by DrugStars overall – but figuring out your individual impact or the amount received by the charity category of your choice isn’t as upfront. I’m assuming the reason for this is that the impact is actually quite small at the individual level (if you look in the FAQs you’ll find that one star represents just 1 cent) and I imagine they don’t want users to be discouraged. Still, I personally think it would be better to be more upfront with this amount, perhaps while emphasizing the impact that can be had by having so many users – particularly ones like us who take so many meds!! Users can see the total amount donated by DrugStars clearly on the main page, and I think it would also be beneficial for users to see how many other people are using the app. I think knowing that you are part of something much bigger would help make the value of micro donations seem more tangible.
Overall, I think DrugStars is a very interesting concept and it will be interesting to see how they move forward from here!