The cliché advice from doctors who don’t want to be bothered after hours by their patients has long been, “Take two pills and call me in the morning.” But soon it might be: "Take a pill, and we’ll call you."
Proteus Digital Health announced earlier this summer that the US Food and Drug Administration has approved its “ingestible sensor," the Ingestion Event Marker (IEM). Proteus can build the IEM into a pill that, once swallowed by a patient, will work with the body’s chemistry to collect and transmit data directly to the doctor.
Popular Science described the sensors as “sand-particle-sized silicon chips” made with small amounts of magnesium and copper -- a composition that makes them “generate voltage” when they come in contact with digestive juices. The charge signals a skin patch that, in turn, transmits the information to a practitioner’s mobile device. The doctor knows the time at which the patient took the pill, which is particularly important when monitoring patients who must remember to take medications at specific times. The system also can alert the patient or a family member with a text message. Here's a quick video on how it works:
Nature Magazine quoted Dr. Eric Topol, professor at The Scripps Research Institute, as saying, “About half of all people don’t take medications like they’re supposed to.” With dosage information automatically transmitted, doctors, nurses, or anyone responsible for the care of another can know when the individual isn’t adhering to medical instructions and can head off a dosage problem.
While Topol is not affiliated with Proteus, the company does draw on his authority. In the press release, he stated, “Directly digitizing pills, for the first time, in conjunction with our wireless infrastructure, may prove to be the new standard for influencing medication adherence and significantly aid chronic disease management.”
As of now, as PopSci reported, the FDA’s approval extends only to pills that don't contain any actual medication. If the placebos prove that the system works with no risk to patients, it may extend the approval to active medications. In real medications, the device could prove particularly helpful for transplant patients on a strict regimen of medication they need to adhere to in order to suppress their immune systems, as well as for those who have to manage diabetes and mental illness.
Besides relaying time of medication, the sensors could one day possibly deliver a variety of other data collected from the body. For example, a sensor could pick up on the level of activity and monitor the body’s heart rate. The information could give a complete and accurate picture about an individual's habits. Rather than rely on the person’s own recollection or jotted notes, the physician could get the information in real-time and make recommendations based on accurate data.
Ingestible sensor technology and internal data collection certainly have their upsides, but some people also see a dark side to Big Brother-type surveillance on people’s bodies. Which point of view is yours?
@Hospice, yes, a full checkup would still be in order, but the idea is that the monitoring enabled by this technology would cut out some doctor's visits that currently are needed just to check on the patient's adherence to the prespcribed regimen. Do let me at least hold on to the hope that it may also eliminate the need for some of the more unpleasant procedures down the road.
" I was talking about the weird feeling in terms of the technology being new."
It is quite normal if people are cautious about what they don't understand. Any new technology will be feared until it is proved safe and reliable. But as you said, the fear will disappear when earlier adopters start sharing their stories.
Yes, I was talking about the weird feeling in terms of the technology being new. But it's true that that won't be a problem if the early adopters do their share of the talking. And you're right about colonoscopy--I'd gladly swallow anything in place of that.
@magneticnorth but anything new can seem weird -- until it becomes routine. There are various exploratory procedures that call for odd things to be taken into the bodies -- radioactive materials, dyes, and even cameras that let the surgeon know what's going on inside without having to open the patient up. Swallowing pills that activate a transmission seems more appealing to me than undergoing a traditional colonscopy, a procedure that is considered routine for many of a certain age.
I did mean that from a health perspective, and a psychological one too. It's just weird to consciously ingest something that can broadcast messages. On one hand, it's cool, on the other, it's rather scary. If none of my friends have taken this, I'd feel a bit hesitant.
@magneticnorth Do you mean from a health perspective? The FDA clearance indicates it was found to be safe enough to be approved for ingestion. It also does not remain in the body any longer than food does, as it passes through the same route. As for possible consequences, I imagine that will be addressed before the FDA grants approval for the device to be attached to active pills.
@magneticnorth Prescriptions already require privacy regulations. Not everyone wants what medications they're on to become public knowledges. However, it is also important that their doctors and pharmacists know exactly what they are taking because of possible dangers of drug interactions. The laws in place would simply have to be extended to take smart pill broadcasting into account.
"The doctor knows the time at which the patient took the pill, which is particularly important when monitoring patients who must remember to take medications at specific times. The system also can alert the patient or a family member with a text message."
It'll only be a matter of time when consumer groups cry for a privacy statement and an opt-in mechanism for this one.
Edit: Saw that this has already been discussed. I rest my case.
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