How can you get illiterate people to follow written prescription directions? That’s the big question I tried answering after returning from Ghana in May 2013. After working in a medical clinic for a week, our team noticed that patients were not following their dosage instructions. The illiterate patients couldn’t read the medication labels we were giving them. Since they couldn’t understand these labels, the patients were either too scared to touch the medication or they took too much of it, hurting themselves even further.
When I came back to UConn I teamed up with my friend Charles Fayal, a biomedical engineer, to design a device that could solve this problem. We prototyped an audible recording device that allows doctors to record prescription directions. Illiterate patients can then press a button on the device and replay the doctor’s directives so that they can audibly hear and understand how to take their medication at home. We called it the Parrot Device.
In October 2014, we got invited to present our idea at the BMES conference in San Antonio, Texas. We met many interesting people there from all over the world that gave us their perspectives on how the Parrot could be useful in their countries. They also talked to us about some difficulties we may face in trying to get our idea to people in the developing world. One of the most frequent comments we got was the importance of getting cultures to accept the Parrot in order to get people to use it as intended. In many places around the world, people may be skeptical to use a piece of technology like this in order to follow their medical routine. It became clear to us that the only way to understand how to get cultural approval of our device was to actually test it out in the developing countries and build on the information we collect.
After a search for medical clinics in developing countries, we came across the organization Partners in Development (PID) that was working in Guatemala. When I contacted the organization, they explained how they had been having problems with their patients following their prescribed medical regiments. I told them about our device, and they were interested in having us test it at one of their clinics. We are excited to have set dates to travel to Guatemala from March 1st to the 8th and put the Parrot to the test.