Don’t panic, but in a few years, your pills might have a computer in them. It’s not science fiction (although it might feel a bit Orwellian for some), it’s a new technology being pioneered by a company called Proteus.
Proteus is working on a system wherein each pill you take contains a tiny sensor that will send information back to a database. It’s called “Digital Medicine,” and it has the potential to radically change the physician/patient relationship.
Your pill will monitor when you are taking your medication, and how your body is responding to it, letting your doctor know if you are using it as prescribed. According to the company, over 50% of people don’t get the full benefit from their medication, due to incorrect dosage or trouble following the directions their physicians gave them. If it works, this new technology could save lives and create a far more effective health care system.
The way the digital pills will work is even stranger. The sensor in the pill resembles a grain of sand in size and measures just 1mm square. It’s also completely digestible. Because of their small size, the pills won’t have room for a battery, antenna, or other internal power source. Instead, they draw energy from your own stomach fluids, both powering the device as well as providing the sensor with a unique identifier.
The second component of the system is a small, band-aid like patch that you will wear for up to seven days at a time. This disposable patch receives information from the internal sensor, monitors your heart rate, and sends this information to your cell phone. Using any Bluetooth enabled smart phone, you’ll be able to see the data your pill is collecting and access apps that display all this information in context.
Overall, it’s a fairly unbelievable technology. But if it works, and Proteus is fairly confident it will, it could very easily revolutionize our medical system. Obviously there isn’t any hard data on how many lives this tech could potentially save, but considering how much extra data it will be providing your healthcare provider, I’d wager a fair number. The only big concern for me would be if your health insurer has access to your data, but that seems like a whole barrel of monkeys that will need to be tackled once this system is a reality.
Unfortunately, it seems like Digital Medicines might still be a ways off. Proteus has completed clinical trials in a number of therapeutic areas, but have yet to receive FDA approval. Until then, keep reading those labels, your life could depend on it.