PillBox API icon

“Working with innovators in the medical space, we are always looking for an edge we can give our clients when it comes to data sources. The PillBox API looks to really be innovative regarding this.” – Mark Majer @Bytelion


Pillbox.nlm.nih.gov is a drug ‘cross referencing’ site. You can fill out certain aspects of a drug you have seen, for instance, color, shape, imprint, size, etc. and the site will (potentially) identify it for you. Pillbox’s API is publicly available for developers to build medication-related applications and services.  

Why does this matter to medical innovators?

The biggest problem we are trying to solve is helping people understand what their medications look like.  It doesn’t sound like a big problem, but it actually is.  As the world population ages and the numbers of medications increase, tools like this are going to be sought after.  So far, no one is using this API to build a product on.


Who is Responsible for Pillbox?

The primary organization that is responsible for Pillbox, is the National Library of Medicine. David Hale has worked tirelessly over the years to ensure that data fidelity is as high quality as possible. In addition to the National Library of Medicine, the National Library of Medicine works with The Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and pharmaceutical companies to make sure that drug labeling is accurate.

How it Works

Query Example:

                               Imprint: 3759
                               Shape: Triangle
                               Color: White

Returned Result:
                               {Image of example pill}

                               Name: Lisinopril – Lisinopril 10 MG Oral Tablet
                               Ingredient(s): LISINOPRIL
                               Imprint(s): 3759; I

Potential Issues

The first thing on Pillbox’s developer page is the following disclaimer: “Pillbox’s source data is known to have errors and inconsistencies.” The problem arises: how can developers build anything reliable/trustworthy with this API?

As stated above, the Food and Drug Administration, National Library of Medicine, and pharmaceutical companies are working on improving the reliability of the product. As they develop the API so too shall the products built on them evolve.  For now, the companies which have employed the use of the API have created workarounds for issues that may arise from the damaged areas of the API.

Is the project dead?

We have reviewed the source for several repositories.  While we have seen fits and spurts, we have not seen a public facing focused effort to deliver working software.

GitHub Project HHS

GitHub has a project dedicated to creating a Pillbox engine, a “local web-based application for downloading and management of DailyMed SPL Data.”

Although a significant amount of work was accomplished, the project fizzled out at the beginning of 2015. You can reference it here. https://hhs.github.io/pillbox/

No one is using this data in a commercial product from the Pillbox API.

Possible Innovators

Home Nursing

Looking after the elderly/sick is a difficult task, which is much easier with a knowledge of medicine. If one were seeking to savvy up the Home Nursing industry, it would be worthwhile looking into Pillbox. Using the API, any confusion involving mixed up medicines or which drugs may be taken simultaneously etc. can easily be resolved.

Law enforcement

Law Enforcement is a difficult task, but hey, that’s what software is for! Cops that may have found suspicious drugs would have use of an app/device which utilizes the API to verify whether the suspicious pill they have found is actually ‘medication.’

Medical adherence systems

Drugs do not tend to get mixed up frequently for those at home because they are labeled and organized in containers. But who knows what you may take with those drugs? Can you take ibuprofen with it? Maybe you did mix up your containers, and you need to verify if you need to take the small white rectangular one or the small white circle one! Once again, Pillbox API to the rescue. A relatively straightforward app could verify all of this information. A more complex app may even be able to create a schedule with reminders based on the logged drugs.

Have any questions or comments? Feel free to email us at info@bytelion.com