Happy belated new year! I am back from chilly Germany, and have settled into a new routine of trying to get shit done but actually trying to look after myself and do things that are good for my health. Because I am a sensible adult that totally knows how to rest.
I’m approaching things slightly differently this year, as I’ve been struggling a fair amount recently with both my health and my emotional reaction to everything that I have to put up with. It has only been a few days so far, but I’m quite enjoying what I’m doing. I’ll keep at it for a month or so and update you on how that goes and the small things I’m doing to try and cope better with my life.
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the things I want to start doing more of this year is blogging. After all, I managed to pretty thoroughly neglect writing throughout 2017.
I’ve started off slowly by trying to share more personal stuff on my Instagram again, but I’ve honestly been enjoying tweeting more than anything recently, and it’s the social media channel that I now use most frequently…because algorithms…boo…
The main things that I’ll be focussing on this year will be related to working, loneliness and isolation, the desire to ‘do shit’, and generally navigating and balancing all of those things during a pretty rubbish health time.
I’m also planning on spending more time experiencing, researching, and reviewing both physical products and apps that are supposed to make life easier for people with disabilities. This week, I’ll be reviewing the DrugStars app – which rewards you for taking your medication by helping you donate money to charity.
Full disclosure: this is a sponsored review, but it will be, as always, 100% my honest opinion.
Medication for people with chronic illnesses can be a total pain in the arse. On the one hand, if you find the right prescription, it can drastically improve your quality of life. On the other, we can spend a huge amount of time trying to find something that works, balancing side effects, and often needing complicated regimens that require different meds being taken at different times – and it becomes very easy to forget and get overwhelmed with the whole process.
The concept of DrugStars intrigued me right away, this is pretty much their schtick:
Well, isn’t that a nice idea? We’re a medical Robin Hood.
Raising money for charity just by tracking my medication usage every day is definitely appealing – as it’s always nice to get something positive out of ill-health mandated stuff.
The company started life in Scandinavia, and they are starting to gain more users here. According to my contact there, Andre, they have a total of 55,000 users, with 4,000 based in the UK.
On first glance, I quite enjoyed the design of the app. It feels sleek, modern, and kinda more ‘millennial tech nerd’ than most other apps I’ve seen targeted at people with illness or disability.
That being said, it’s not entirely clear from the outset how the navigation works, as nothing is labelled. It requires a little bit of playing around to figure it out, but it’s all pretty instinctual and I got the hang of after tapping through each section twice.
The top left is an ‘invite your friends’ button, the top right takes you to your profile. The top circle is where you can “track” your medication and take part in research surveys, the middle takes you to the charity page, and the bottom takes you to the raffle page. I’ll go into more detail about all of these things below.
Adding your medication
As you can see, the ‘add your medication’ menu gives you the option to search for your prescription (mine was very easy to find) and then add a time you would want a reminder. It does note that if you don’t take your medication on a fixed schedule, you don’t need to put a time in, and you will still get the opportunity to collect your daily star for charity.
I’ll explain the charity bit in a second, but I feel like this is where DrugStars may be missing a trick. I think the app could work well if you have very (very) simple, daily medication needs, but if you’re a patient with more complex or complicated drug regimens, this is likely to be too limited for you to use it as a proper medication reminder service. To be fair, they don’t specifically advertise themselves as a tracking app, but it feels a bit counter-productive to have this reminder option that doesn’t work to its full potential. I’d love to be able to track my medications effectively AND donate to charity in one place – it feels kinda weird putting in my medication and setting notifications otherwise.
I’m not on all that many meds anymore, and aside from vitamins, the only thing I need to change regularly are my morphine patches, which I do once a week. Having the simple option of being able to choose daily, weekly, or generally have the ability to customise when I receive a notification would drastically increase the usefulness of the app outside of its other features for me, and make me more likely to come back and use it as a whole package. I don’t know if I’d use this in the long-term if I had a more effective tracking app giving me notifications to take my meds.
Collect stars, raise money for charity
The main idea behind the app is that you earn stars for taking your medication every day. There are also surveys about the medication you’ve registered, with the opportunity of signing up to take part in more research to earn further stars.
The experience of the charity side of the app is slightly different for users in the UK, as DrugStars are still in the process of signing up charities/patient associations. They have 25 that they work with across Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, which cover a wide-range of illnesses and disabilities. As a patient, it’s appealing to be able to try and raise some money for conditions that are similar to mine, so I’m looking forward what organisations they’re able to sign up here. According to the app today (18th Jan) they’ve given over £54,000 in donations to charity.
Because of this, nothing has been officially “donated” in the UK so far, but Andre told me that users here have activated donations of £3,000 through the app. By tapping on the charity box on the home screen, you’re able to select the ‘type’ of charity you want your money to go to (as a stop-gap until the app features specifics). Options include cancer, headaches, neurological disorders, diabetes, and more.
As you may have noticed above, you’re able to collect extra stars for taking part in surveys and helping DrugStars to collect data. They seem to be pretty open and transparent about the fact that the data they’re collecting will be used for scientific research and may be sold on to commercial companies.
This is something that is quite common in healthcare apps, so it’s refreshing to see it laid out instead of hidden away in the terms and conditions somewhere.
I wanted to dig a bit further into where the donated money is coming from, and where the data from the surveys and research conducted through the app is going.
According to the FAQ:
“Healthcare companies convert stars to money as part of their corporate social responsibility campaigns. DrugStars.com is managing the contributions to match specific diseases, or just all types of DrugStars users.”
Additionally, in practice, the way they hope to fund the app is by selling the survey data. However, I was told that so far they haven’t had any companies who have wanted to purchase the data yet, so all of the donations to charity are being paid by the company themselves. In the future, they expect that half of the revenue that is earned through this model will go towards donations earned in the app.
Andre told me that they “have to follow strict rules regarding data”, when I questioned where exactly the data could be sold. “Patient Data is stored separately from your in-app behavior data. Data from reviews (patient experiences with products) will be used for scientific research and may also be sold on commercial terms to healthcare companies. When handling data, we at DrugStars make sure it is delivered in an aggregated form. Thus, ensuring anonymity.”
The final circle on the main screen of the app takes you the raffle page. Your number of entries per month corresponds to how active you are in tracking that you’ve taken your meds or participating in surveys. Every month, one user will win a £75 gift voucher for Treatwell – which is a nice added incentive. The bottom line
DrugStars is still relatively new here in the UK, and I’ll be curious to follow along with their progress as they add charities and develop their community further. I really like the general idea of the app, and the ability it gives you to do some good while doing something you’d have to do anyway.
I do wish that the mediation reminder tool was a bit more robust. As it currently stands, it doesn’t serve my needs as a user, which means I would be unlikely to visit the app everyday to track, even if it were for charity.
Some people may have an issue with the data side of it, but all of this is very individual to how much you like to share online anyway. I respect the fact that the app is open about the fact that data will be shared with third parties, and that’s where they’re hoping to get the bulk of their funding (and donations to charity from).
Personally, on the more specific surveys that came through the app, I’d like to know where the data will be going, or who commissioned it, before submitting my experiences. I tend to only respond to academic surveys or ones through institutions I know, even if it is anonymous. But again, this is just my preference, and I’m sure the ability to gain an extra 50p-a-pop worth of donations to your chosen charity will be a great motivator for many.
I’m definitely keen to follow on the development of the app and to see what they bring to the table here in the UK. I think it could serve as a lovely simple reminder app for people with daily medication needs, and is a really interesting concept to raise money for patient organisations.
For more information, you can visit their website here. If you’re on mobile and wanna check them out on either the Apple or Google Play stores, click right on over here.