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Ingestible Smart Pill Can Remind Patients to Take Medications

AUG 14, 2017 | MICHAELA FLEMING
In the age of smartphones and wearable technology, doctors at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center are using an innovative method of digital medicine to help patients manage chronic diseases: a smart pill. The pills are modified to include a sensor that will notify patients if they have not taken their daily medication by sending an alert to an app on a mobile device.

During the manufacturing process, an ingestible sensor composed of naturally-occurring minerals is added to the drug. Patients are also given a Bluetooth-enabled patch to wear on their abdomen, which interacts with the pill. When patients ingest the prescribed medication, the pill becomes activated by stomach acid and notifies the patch that the medication has been taken. However, when a patient does not take their prescribed medication, the patch interprets the lack of communication from the patch as a missed dose and notifies the app. The patch can also track average heart rate, amount of time asleep, and number of steps taken.

Rush University Medical Center is 1 of 8 health care facilities nationwide that is using the technology. Rush is using the smart pills to enhance treatment of chronic diseases that are manageable using medication, including hypertension. High blood pressure affects 29% of adults, yet only 54% are successfully managing the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When it comes to high blood pressure, the vast majority of patients respond nicely to medication. The trick is to ensure they’re taking it,” said Anthony Perry, MD, vice president for population health and ambulatory services at the medical center, in a recent press release. Dr. Perry further explained that 30% to 50% of patients are falling short of routinely taking prescribed medication to manage hypertension.

Proteus Digital Health, the manufacturer of the smart pill, is seeking approval by the US Food and Drug Administration to add the product to various types of drugs that treat mental health disorders, which include depression and bipolar disorder.

Because the pill is still in its beginning stages of use at Rush, the patients are using hospital-provided iPads that allow nurses and doctors access to the patient’s medication use; however, Proteus also has an app that patients could use on their own smartphones.

Proteus is working with Rush to keep the cost of medication and the necessary technology to a minimum. Rush patients using smart pills are currently paying the same rates as they would for pills without sensory technology. Proteus has additionally raised more than $300 million for the smart pills.

Despite the plans for expansion, patients at Rush will typically only use the technology for about 3 months. Perry and colleagues at Rush hope that the use of Proteus pills will form daily medication habits in the patients after 3 months.

“From a behavioral perspective, experts would say you need to perform a behavior consistently for about 3 months to create a pattern,” said Dr. Perry.

Regardless of the allure of incorporating technology into medicine, one of the focal points of smart pills is the ability for patients to get more involved in managing their illnesses. Access to the exact number of doses a patient has taken fosters clear communication with doctors and provides precise results about the success rate of the drug.
 
Feature Picture Source: Rush University Medical Center
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