Tiny Ingestible Sensors Help Doctors Track Their Patients’ Medication-Taking Patterns

Will smart pills, cash boost drug compliance?

Educating patients about taking medications is not always effective. Proponents of technology and incentives say these methods represent the next steps in overcoming a stubborn problem.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the smart pill, called the Ingestion Event Marker, for marketing as a medical device on July 10. The ingestible sensor is the size of a grain of sand and can be integrated into an inert pill or an active medication. Fluid in the stomach activates the sensor and sends a signal through body tissue to a small, water-resistant patch worn on the torso. The patch detects when the pill is ingested and wirelessly sends that data to an application accessible by mobile phone or computer.

Adherence data will be available to anyone given permission by the patient, such as family members and physicians, said the product’s manufacturer, Redwood City, Calif.-based Proteus Digital Health Inc. Doctors would have access to their patients’ medication-taking patterns between visits and could use it to help address barriers to adherence, said George M. Savage, MD, co-founder and chief medical officer of Proteus.

A third of new prescriptions never get filled.

“This isn’t about doctors browbeating people or monitoring compliance in some sort of negative way,” Dr. Savage said. “These are tools to help people understand their behavior and to provide directed education and other interventions to help them achieve their goals.”

Starting in September, Proteus will partner with the British chain Lloyds Pharmacy to market the product directly to consumers in the United Kingdom. The monthly subscription cost will be on par with the charge for a month of cable or satellite TV service. The sensor will be included in an inert medication to be taken at the same time as the patient’s prescribed medications, Dr. Savage said.

Proteus is working with the drugmaker Novartis to add the sensor to immunosuppressive medications prescribed to organ transplant recipients. The company hopes to gain FDA approval for such a “digital medicine” by 2014.

By KEVIN B. O’REILLY, amednews staff


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