Today technology has taken over many areas of our lives, but you probably never expected to find it literally IN your medication. That's exactly what's happening, though. A U.S. company, Prodeus Biomedical, has developed what is being called a smart pill and patch system which will debut in the U.K. in September, 2012.
The system consists of three parts: tablets in which tiny sensors have been embedded, a patch to be worn on the body and a smartphone app. When the tablet is swallowed, the sensor will relay information to the patch, which will then send the information to your smartphone via Bluetooth wireless technology. From there, the app can transmit the information to whomever the patient chooses – family members, caregivers and/or doctors.
According to the manufacturer, some of the information recorded could include your name, the name of the medication, the time you took it and a number of physiologic factors like your heart rate, respiration, temperature, your physical activity levels and sleep patterns. They say the purpose of the system is to help ensure that patients are taking their medications properly and monitor possible adverse reactions.
A Proteus press release says, “The World Health Organisation estimates 50 percent of patients fail to take their medicines correctly.¹ This can result in patients not gaining the full benefit of their treatment, or worse, being at risk of harmful reactions. Unused prescription medicine is also estimated to cost the NHS in the UK around £396 million a year."
While this is certainly an intriguing technology, I can see both pros and cons to using it.
- It can be hard to remember to take our medications on time and this system could remind us when the next dose is due.
- It could allow elderly or disabled patients to live more independently while still letting family members keep track of how they're doing and whether they're taking medications properly.
- It could alert doctors to possible adverse effects, especially when a patient is trying a new medicaton.
- Privacy is always a concern with something like this. While the patient supposedly has control of who sees the information, once data is on the Internet, there is always the possibility it can be hacked.
- Is it safe to repeatedly ingest the materials the sensors are made of?
- There continues to be questions about the safety of Bluetooth technology in wireless earpieces and whether they could cause brain cancer. How safe would it be to have this same technology on and in our bodies?
There is one possible use for this technology I haven't seen mentioned yet. Could it be used with opioid medications to ensure that chronic pain patients are taking them as prescribed? On the positive side, doctors might be more willing to prescribe opioids for chronic pain if they knew they could monitor how and when they were taken. On the negative side, it would be a huge invasion of privacy – a little like having Big Brother watching over us.