Digestible Microchips Heading to Pharmacies Near You

Do you, or does someone you know, have trouble following directions listed on a pill bottle? You might be surprised to hear that almost half of all people take medication incorrectly, and this can lead to some very scary results.

Missing an antibiotic here or a heart pill there can be harmful to your recovery, and the folks at Proteus Digital Health believe they have come up with the perfect solution to the problem. It’s a microchip about the size of a grain of sand that monitors and reports the exact time and date that a medicine has been taken to a patch that the patient wears on their skin. That patch, in turn, sends the data to the patient’s smartphone, which then can be sent to the doctor or caregiver.

For now, the FDA and its counterpart in Europe have approved the digital pill’s use in placebos. That means that pills that really don’t do anything but keep the patient on proper time can have these silicon-based chips embedded in them. Proteus Digital Health hopes to have its chip approved for use with non-placebo medications soon.

Where a Digital Pill Can Help

The chip itself is powered by water and/or stomach acid. Once the chip becomes wet, a time and date is sent to the patch. This information may help doctors determine whether or not dosages should be adjusted to meet the patient’s ingestion habits. Should a patient be more forgetful, a higher dose or different medication schedule might be required.

Additionally, this information can help a patient stay on track as it provides a type of accountability beyond their own personal health concerns.

There are situations where medication is prescribed as a condition of freedom for the user. Someone with mental instability, for example, may be prescribed specific medication in order to keep them from losing control while out in the public. A surprisingly large percentage of mental health patients on parole fail to use their medication and end up back behind bars.

A study conducted by the Urban Institute in 2008 revealed that 84% of men and 92% of women returning to prison reported some form of physical or mental health condition. 35% of the women and 15% of men in this category reported mental health conditions. Roughly half of all returning prisoners were on the same medication they were given when they left the facility an average of 8-12 months prior.

Having an accurate method of tracking medication ingestion would not only help secure inventory from after-market sale, but insure that the patient is taking dosages as prescribed.

Where the Technology Might Be Less Helpful

Not everyone believes that all prescribed medications are a good thing. A technology like this is almost guaranteed to develop to the point where a patch is no longer necessary. Something as small as these microchips powered by RFID or other wireless technologies could conceivably transmit information directly to your smartphone (sending it on to your physician).

I’m not personally sold on health care by force, and our court system here in the US is already forcing people to take specific medications. This doesn’t just apply to folks convicted of crimes, but ones who haven’t even gone to trial yet in order for the legal system to meet the burden of proof that the person in custody even committed the crime. Whether it’s obvious that the person accused is guilty or not, we live in a country where someone is considered innocent until proven guilty, which makes the punishment of enforced medication all the less justified. Some anti-psychotic drugs used today have even been linked to brain damage.

There’s also the stigma of Big Brother watching you take your medications. If you honestly believe that the government will have such a tool for remote accountability of medication and not use it, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of reasons to cheer for this development. Patients with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative mental conditions may struggle with remembering to take required medications. Having your phone send you an alert when no ingestion has been reported by the patch can be a powerful reminder. This is undoubtedly one of the most significant developments in the health sector for senior citizens living at home who wish to stay out of a total-care facility.

That said, one can only hope that this type of system does not become a tool used by the courts to enforce medications on patients who do not wish (or even believe) in medication. There are plenty of honest, hardworking individuals out there who would rather opt out of preventative medicine as more and more reports come out that indicate many of them have side effects that are worse than the problem they prevent.

Image: Proteus Digital Health

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