Of pill boxes and piano benches: “home-made” methods for managing medication

Palen, L., and Aaløkke, S. Of pill boxes and piano benches: “home-made” methods for managing medication. In CSCW ’06: Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work (New York, NY, USA, 2006), ACM, pp. 79–88. [PDF]


This paper describes an ethnographic study of how elders manage their medication with the objective of informing the design of in-home assistive health technology to support medication adherence. The authors describe many strategies that elderly uses to organize their medication many of which leverage a kind of socially distributed cognition. For instance, the position of the pillboxes in a cabinet is used to remember the sequence at which the medications have to be taken during the day.

These findings inform five design principles: 1) assistive IT should support personalized medication management systems that can be distributed across the home using spatial arrangements in places that support rutines; 2) computation should benefit elders in the management of their medications; 3) systems should provide windows of inference for remote assistance (e.g., when health care workers see that the place is messy and understand that something is wrong with the elderly); 4) technology should respect the privacy and dignity of the user; and 5) “health” should be conceptualized to be broader in scope than what occurs in the context of a doctor-patient exchange.

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