Digital Pills: The Future of Healthcare Is Medicinal Tracking

U.S. authorities approved the world’s first digital drug last week. It contains a very small microchip embedded inside of a pharmaceutical drug. How does the pill work? Once the pill is dissolved by stomach acid, the microchip sends signals to a smart device to notify physicians of its consumption. This technology could be revolutionary for medical adherence. It could also be a great tool for patients to keep up with their medication.

The first attempts at trialing this technology involved embedding the chip into a medication called Abilify, which is used to treat schizophrenia. The chip releases a signal that a patch worn by the patient retrieves and conserves the data. The signals inside of the patch then communicate a message that the pill has been consumed. Thus, transmitting a message to the patient’s smart phone.

How are digital pills useful?

The microchip transmits data to your smartphone that can be used to be shared with your physician. You can even share the information with your family members or others on the care team. This is especially useful for patients that have a severe medical problem such as Alzheimer or schizophrenia, which keeping up with medication is very important. It can help the care team make sure that the patients are taking their medication on time. Measuring medical adherence could also help with the high costs of treatment. Patients do not accurately communicate whether they are doing the treatment correctly, therefore physicians often over-prescribe or increase dosages when in fact it is the patient not taking the medication.

What are the downsides of digital pills?

The downside is that the implementation of microchips in drugs could increase the costs of the drugs. Placing microchips in pills will not make the medication more affordable. The microchip also does not attempt to address side effects or help with transportation to pick up the drug.  The microchip pill really is only considered as a tracking device, not an intervention to improve adherence. In addition to the above, there are some ethical issues involving the use of digital pills. How comfortable is a patient with having their physician tracking their behaviors at home?  Does it cross the line of privacy? This technology seems to bring up more questions than answers, but it could be a great benefit for the patients who have a hard time keeping up with their medication.

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