Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Digital Pill

So the FDA has approved the world's first digestible microchip for humans, nicknamed the 'digital pill'. Does this herald a crazy new era in digital medicine in which even our pills are electronic? It would appear the concept's naysayers are, well...yay-sayers.

Currently only approved for use with placebos, the microchip - apparently only as big as a grain of sand - contains tiny amounts of copper and magnesium which, when ingested and combined with stomach acid, creates a small electrical voltage. This voltage will send a signal to a patch worn on the patient's arm, which will then, in turn, transmit relevant data to a healthcare professional's smartphone.

The theory behind the digital pill is that it is meant to improve patients' compliance with a drug's prescribing information, as from the data collected by the chip, doctors can assess a user's biological response to a particular course of treatment.

So what do people think about this new breakthrough in modern medicine? Comments on the matter have ranged from:

"These are pretty cool technology. Essentially a very small chip with a potato battery on it (or lemon depending on which elementary school you went to) which lasts for a few seconds before dissolving in your stomach acid. The chips are really, really small. Very elegant solution. Given the low power, they can only transmit a very short distance (like to your arm). This would be very helpful for elderly/demented patients. Also as a replacement for DOT in TB therapy, so instead of having to go somewhere, this could be done electronically."


"Hell no. This is how the zombie virus will begin!"

The general consensus seems to be that, while it may be a good idea in theory, the repercussions regarding privacy outweigh the benefits. A lot of people are taking the Big-Brother-is-not-only-watching-you-but-he-is-inside-you stance, believing that the medical industry and the government have just rolled out yet another way to keep tabs on the population.

Implication-wise, it would appear that if your doctor can tell whether or not you are taking your medication properly, both they and the patient would receive a more accurate reflection of the success rate of a particular course of treatment. This, in turn, has a shot at improving drug brand's success rates as the number of patients visiting their doctor with complaints of medication being ineffective sees a decline. The statistics regarding adherence are shocking. If a patient is on a course of treatment that requires them to medicate four times a day - only 50% of patients actually keep to this regime and take the medication properly. This (literally) tiny piece of digital innovation could be the key to turning this trend on its head.

What do you think? Teeny Transformer from the planet Cybertron or an exciting medical breakthrough?

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