There are many health conditions that require medication to be taken regularly in order to fight off severe symptoms and side effects. However, many people don’t follow these guidelines, skipping a pill here or there (or more) and suffering the consequences. That’s just one of the many reasons why news of the FDA’s approval of a digital pill is getting major buzz.
Developed after years of research in a joint effort between Japanese pharmaceutical company Otsuka and digital medicine service Proteus Digital Health, the pill, called Abilify MyCite, can track whether or not patients have taken their medication via a tiny ingestible sensor (it’s the size of a grain of sand and made of silicon, copper and magnesium) that communicates with a small patch worn by the patient on their rib cage. The patch then sends the data via Bluetooth to the patient’s smartphone app, where it is stored and can be uploaded to a database for their doctor or other authorized users to access. However, the patient has the ability to block this access at any time.
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Abilify MyCite is designed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and is an adjunct treatment for depression, but experts are speculating about the potential for this type of pill to be used to treat other conditions as well, or for elderly patients who may forget to take their medications. As reported on by The New York Times, experts estimate that “so-called nonadherence or noncompliance to medication costs about $100 billion a year, much of it because patients get sicker and need additional treatment or hospitalization.”
But one of the big questions here is, will this technological innovation become a privacy issue? Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the digital pill “has the potential to improve public health, [but] if used improperly, it could foster more mistrust instead of trust.” Other experts have expressed concern that “pill tracking” could lead to the potential punishment of patients who don’t conform.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the FDA is anticipating a surge in approval requests for other digital pills and therefore planning to hire more staff with an understanding of this type of software development in relation to medical devices.
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