Article originally published by Steven Aquino, Contributor, via Forbes.com.
In a press release published at the end of November, drug store giant CVS announced Spoken Rx, an in-house prescription label technology that makes medicinal labels accessible to Blind and low vision people. CVS touted the talking prescription feature as “the first in-app prescription reader to be developed by a national retail pharmacy.”
The company noted it collaborated with the American Council for the Blind in conceiving and developing Spoken Rx. ACB executive director Eric Bridges was quoted in the press release as saying in part the feature “allows for a greater level of privacy, safety, and independence for blind and visually impaired customers.”
Spoken Rx is available in the CVS app for iOS and Android, with its own tab in the user interface. It is fully compatible with Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader; Siri on iOS and the Google Assistant on Android are also fully supported. Spoken Rx works by scanning a special label on pill bottles using RFID. The software will then read aloud the scanned text in either English or Spanish. CVS worked with Identiv, a digital identification and security firm, in developing the scanning technology.
Anyone who needs help getting started with Spoken Rx can ask a pharmacist at their neighborhood CVS Pharmacy for assistance. Spoken Rx requires a free CVS account.
In a recent interview with me conducted over email, CVS Senior Vice President of Store Operations Jared Tancrelle said Spoken Rx was added to 1,700 CVS Pharmacy locations in 2020—including those within Target stores. As of this year, it is available in every CVS Pharmacy chain-wide. He described Spoken Rx as a “first-of-its-kind” solution that’s deeply integrated into the company’s prescription-dispensing tool.
In developing the feature, Tancrelle explained the company realized it could do something innovative with its mobile app to make prescriptions more accessible. CVS already offers labels in Braille and large print for visually impaired patients. The impetus for Spoken Rx, he said, was the realization of a “pain point” for those who can’t easily read the small font on prescription labels. He noted 125,000 deaths occur each year from people taking their medication(s) incorrectly; these wholly preventable deaths happen in part because someone can’t read (or misread) the directions.
But Spoken Rx has other key benefits: increased autonomy and greater feelings of independence. “It also helps give some independence back to patients who otherwise might need to ask for help to take their prescriptions,” Tancrelle said. “We’ve heard from our patients that being able to do this daily task independently helps increase their confidence while keeping their personal medical information private.” Tancrelle told me the company heard from many in the Blind and low vision communities, who expressed their desire for something like what would eventually become Spoken Rx.
Since its launch, CVS has made numerous improvements to Spoken Rx. In addition to reading dosage details and the like, Spoken Rx also can read information such as a pharmacy’s address and phone number. The CVS app now hooks into the platforms’ phone API so patients can call their local pharmacy with a single tap. Those who don’t use a smartphone can use a standalone speaker with Spoken Rx, Tancrelle said.
Overall, Tancrelle told me CVS is “on a mission to make health care more convenient, personalized, and affordable.” He added the company will continue to engage with customers in improving Spoken Rx by listening to their “concerns, demands, challenges, and needs.”