Is a digital pill to track medical adherence in your future?


The future of medicine is at hand ... again. Technology may be on the horizon that can digitally track when and how you take your oral medicine--an issue that patients and physicians have struggled with since the era of oral cancer drugs. In a recent blog from Nature News, it's noted that the FDA has recently approved the first digital pill. (You can read that blog, "Digital pills make their way to market.") Now, there are several small devices that can be swallowed, including a small camera that can look for potential issues in the digestive tract (read about the camera pill here).What makes this new technology, called Proteus Digital Health Feedback System, so interesting is that it used a microchip that's about the size of a grain of sand that can be embedded in an oral pill. Once swallowed, the microchip can relay data to a nearby digital device, such as a smartphone, and track a patient's adherence.Right now, it's only been approved based on studies in placebo pills that show it's safe and does what it says it does. (Medical device approvals are usually a cakewalk when compared with the years of clinical studies that come with drug approvals.) So, it may be some time before you ever see the technology in your doctor's office, but I have a feeling it's coming. However, drug adherence is a huge issue in oncology. Patients may forget to take medication or decide to take smaller doses due to side effects or cost, or not take it correctly -- an easy thing to do when you look at some of the complicated instructions on various medications (take with food or on an empty stomach, don't take with this medication, take at bedtime, etc). ("Use as Directed" offers tips on how patients can improve adherence, including reminders and questions for their healthcare team.)If a patient isn't responding to treatment, it could be that the patient isn't taking the medicine properly or at all. The microchip pill could help doctors identify if treatment is not working or if the medication just isn't being taken properly. While proponents say its use isn't to scold patients, it may make patients feel that one less thing is out of their control. What do you think? Would you be willing to have your doctor track your pill taking?

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