Hero pill dispenser review: Price, cost, subscription fee and who it’s best for
By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links
Hero is a standalone device that helps people with complex pill regimens manage their medications better — but how does it work and is it the right choice for you or your loved one?
The company touts that errors in taking medicines is a significant health concern and holds up its device as a solution to that problem by reducing the chance of error.
In addition to the actual device that stores and dispenses up to 10 different pill shaped medications (including supplements and vitamins), Hero comes with a companion app that can be used to track adherence to medication routines, including giving a caregiver remote alerts.
So, is the Hero right for you?
Price and cost
The toughest thing for most users of Hero to swallow is the monthly fee. The company currently charges a flat $99.99 to activate each Hero device plus $29.99 a month.
There’s also what amounts to a one year agreement — if you decide to return the device after the 30 day free trial, Hero will still charge the remaining $29.99 per month fees until you’ve reached the equivalent of a total of 12.
If you try Hero and decide it’s not for you within 30 days, however, there’s no charge for shipping either way and Hero says it will also refund the activation and first monthly fee so you won’t be out any money.
Put one way, that’s about $1 a day if you don’t count the initiation fee, which is often discounted by $50.
Hero also offers three months of membership for free for new members.
Earlier reports indicated Hero was charging about $400 to buy the device outright, so by charging $30 a month plus an initiation fee, the company is essentially, at least from a consumer cost perspective, spreading out the cost of the device over the course of a year.
Hero doesn’t offer any discounts for having more than one device in a household, which obviously means that monthly fee can quickly become more and more hefty. For example, a two device household would spend $720 a year in subscription fees alone.
While there is reportedly a solution in the works for higher capacity options, if someone takes more than 10 different types of pills, they would have to order multiple devices and create separate accounts for each of them, which could become costly and clunky.
All that said, it is worth noting that Hero says it will replace any malfunctioning device as part of the monthly fee — so you can look at that monthly fee as a sort of maintenance or “warranty” fee as well.
Is Hero worth the price?
That said, using other medication management systems such as MedReady or Pria require the user to still manually take out pills and put them in separate compartments for each dose, which is not only tedious, but introduces multiple opportunities for human error. For users who take medicines twice a day, which is not uncommon, this means this has to be done about every two weeks with most pill organizers.
Unlike MedReady and Pria, Hero has you dump the entire bottle (or as many pills can fit) of a medicine in the machine and it takes care of delivering the right one at the right time.
So, you can think of it this way: Is spending 30 to 60 minutes or more a month of your time worth $30? If you’re taking only a handful of pills, maybe not, since you’d likely be able to fill a more traditional pill management system in 10 minutes or less. However, if your medication count is higher and has more complex needs, then $30 can be a reasonable fee for not having to do this (and risk making an error).
Hero doesn’t take health insurance, but does accept HSA funds. The company also mentions that the fees may be tax deductible if it’s being used to manage a chronic, diagnosed medical condition.
How the Hero works
The Hero itself looks a bit like a cross between a Keurig and small drink dispenser — it has a “spout” under which a heavy duty plastic cup sits — along with a non-touch screen and a four way navigation system with center button. It’s essentially the same way most TV remotes navigation channel guides — which hopefully would make it easier for non tech savvy folks to get a grasp on how it works faster.
The user interface has reportedly been improved over time, including adding a tutorial when the device is first powered on, but even tech savvy users can find themselves trying to tap options on the screen out of habit.
Hero allows you to add up to 10 different types of medication in whole, shelf stable pill form (half pills, gummies, inhalers, liquids or medications that require climate control won’t work, but the device can still “remind” the user to take them and require them to acknowledge taking them each time the machine is activated).
When it comes time to take a pill, the user simply presses the large center button and enters the optional PIN if any of the medicines are set up to require one. This is a good way to add another layer of protection that the medicine is making it into the body of the right person as well as a good safety measure if there are curious children or others in the house who shouldn’t have access to medications.
The machine makes a surprising amount of noise, including a low, deep whirring noise — sometimes sounding like it’s about to blast off — to pick up and drop one pill into a cup and it can also take a few minutes for everything to be dispensed (for a 10 pill dispense, it’s sometimes a good idea to press the button and go brush your teeth).
The noise factor is something to consider if one sleeping partner gets up earlier than the other since it’s hard to imagine light sleepers not being awoken by the dispensing process.
The machine is also a bit bulky — about the size of a heavy duty blender. If placed on a bathroom counter, for example, it would take up about half the depth of the countertop and a good 9 inches or so in width. If your household requires two it you’d probably struggle to fit both on even a double vanity.
It likely wouldn’t fit on smaller beside tables, though larger ones can still accommodate it and a lamp easily.
Hero itself shows photos of the device on what appear to be kitchen counters as well and the device could easily be placed other places as well — as long as there’s electricity and wifi. Its height of about 15 inches is just short enough to fit under most standard kitchen cabinet configurations.
Hero can also handle “as needed” medications that users can take whenever they need to based on symptoms or other conditions. There’s also the ability to set a maximum number of doses for any medication in a day as well as “mix” between dispensing a medication as part of a regime and making it available whenever is needed (including with the dose cap).
If the power or Internet goes out, Hero comes with a “key” (really it’s just key shaped piece of plastic that lets you open the device manually) to access medications. This requires the user to be able to insert the key in the designated slot, open the door, remove cartridges and manually rotate them inside the machine.
Speaking of keys, Hero probably isn’t all that hard to “break into” if you really wanted, including using something shaped similar to the “key” to open the front door, so it’s definitely not a fully secure solution for medications and likely shouldn’t be used as the sole security measure for medications in households where overdosing or unauthorized access to medications is a concern or even possibility.
Traveling with Hero
Hero would likely provide some significant challenges for those who travel frequently. The device, in theory, could be packed up (the boxes say to save the packaging for returns or travel) and either checked as luggage or shipped to a destination, but it’s not clear how well that would work.
Hero’s website says the machine is delicate, so it’s hard to imagine it would hold up well under too much handling — though Hero does use standard shipping companies to deliver the devices to customer’s homes.
That said, Hero can help out with travel plans by letting the user dispense pills in advance for a set number of days they plan on being away. This would require you to have another pill organizer of some sorts and be sure it is correctly filled, but it’s probably preferable to packing up the Hero and taking it with you.
In reality, it’s probably likely that packing up Hero and taking with you on a trip would probably only make sense if you’re going somewhere for an extended period of time or if you’re driving to your destination and have room for it in your car.
Hero also notes that you may need to bring your medication bottles with the official labels with you on vacation (and keep the around the house when at home) depending on local laws or regulations about how prescription medications, particularly controlled substances, need to be stored as well as to have on hand when you’re at home for your own safety and reference.
Hero definitely has some quirks, too. Sometimes it fails to dispense a medicine for whatever reason and the machine pops open so the user can grab one manually. However, users with dexterity or cognitive issues could likely find this process confusing or difficult to complete because it requires reaching in, squeezing two tabs and pulling the cartridge outward.
It could also be somewhat dangerous because it gives the user direct access the entire supply of pills for whatever medication caused the issue. The machine does “lock” the carousel so that the user can’t access other medications stored inside without breaking the device.
The dispensing issues seems to happen more when the supply is low, but during testing it also happened without any other apparent explanation. Hero prompts users to remove the cartridge and give the pills a “shake” to apparently help it dispense it correctly the next time.
Because pills “drop” out of the bottom like a gumball machine, one might think that the dispenser works by letting a pill “fall” from the bottom of a cartridge, down a chute and into the cup. However, according to Hero’s patent, the device actually works by using a vacuum powered nib to “pick up” a single pill and then drop it into the cup (which explains at least some of how much noise the device makes).
Hero also takes from the top of each pill cartridge first — so if you have to worry about medications that expire, you need to dump out all of the pills in the container, add the newer ones to the bottom, and then add the older ones back on top (there’s also no guarantee what “order” the device will dispense them in, so there’s always the possibility it could grab a newer pill while leaving on older one behind).
The device’s built in medication database also appears to know that certain pill, especially smaller gel caps, can sometimes stick together, making it harder for the machine to dispense these. Interestingly, during our testing, the one pill that sparked this warning has never actually triggered an issue with dispensing. Instead, it’s been mainly larger, complete “solid” pills that seem to give it trouble.
Hero can detect when the cup containing the medications hasn’t been removed and will make sounds and show a message reminding the user to take them. Other reminders and alerts can also be configured.
It’s also smart enough to know when the cup has been replaced, which appears to be its way of at least assuring the medications have been removed from the cup — even though replacing the cup with the pills still in it will “trick” the machine.
Of course, it can’t actually tell if the user ingested the pills since almost anything can happen after it leaves the cup. Because of this, it might not be the best option if there is concern about a user’s cognitive ability to remember to take pills.
Hero also won’t be a good fit for a user with more severe cognitive or movement limitations since it does require the ability to navigate a simple user interface, press some buttons and, optionally, remember and enter a PIN.
Perhaps a good gauge, however, is if the patient in question can use an ATM or TV remote since the tasks needed to dispense medications are similar to performing basic tasks on those devices.
Another potential downside to Hero is that if a particular medication requires it to be taken differently (such as held under the tongue before swallowing), there’s no direct way to remind the user of that with a standard regime routine (though they could always pull the pill out manually each time). Another workaround would be to schedule a separate regimen within a few minutes of the “main” one. Of course, this is a unique situations that might not apply to all users.
A final quirk is that, when entering medications, the system asks you to indicate if you are taking the brand name or generic equivalent, if applicable. It’s not clear why this is important, but it is worth noting that if you select generic, that’s the name used on the screen when pills are dispensed, so it can be confusing if the user isn’t familiar with the scientific names of medications (e.g. Zyrtec vs. cetirizine).
Get a Hero and try it free
As mentioned, it’s risk free to try Hero for 30 days. While the company will charge you the initiation fee plus first month’s fee, you can change your mind and send the device back within 30 days for a full refund (Hero also covers return shipping).
New members can save nearly $90 with the first free months of Hero free by signing up here.