Emerging digital pills provide invaluable health information

Advancing technologies are providing new medical solutions, which may help to address the malpractice associated with medication.

Digital pills
Tracking the effects of medicine more closely allows for greater health outcomes. Photo: Gimono, Pixabay.

Avoiding necessary medicine is unfortunately very common practice in Australia, which places a huge medical burden on society. However, new digital technologies have introduced an ingestible pill capsule that may help to conquer this problem.

The sensor moves through the gastrointestinal tract, whilst sending results to a smartphone. This technology can be used to determine if a patient is taking their required medication, in order to encourage people to utilize the medical resources available and improve their health.

How does the pill work?

An ingestible gel capsule fits over a normal pill, which is dissolved by digestive acids in the stomach when swallowed.  At this point, a radio signal is released. The signal is detected by a device located around the patient’s neck and automatically forwarded to a physician’s smartphone.

The technology was trialled on 15 patients who required the use of oxycodone. In this instance, doctors were able to gather the most useful information about the patient’s pain levels, as they often began to take more when pain was persisting.

Additionally, the pill was used in association with the drug Abilify, which is an antipsychotic prescription used to treat bipolar and schizophrenia disorders. These patients are among the highest to avoid their medication, which induces severe consequences.

Drug addiction

The tracking technology’s function will soon be extended to test for highly addictive drugs, such as opioids. Opioids are useful substances for medical purposes that predominantly provide pain relief.

They are found in many commonly used medicines, such as anaesthesia, however their addictive nature can be problematic when patients are prescribed incorrect doses.

The pill may be able to monitor the body’s reaction to the drug, subsequently helping physicians to prescribe the appropriate amount for the individual patient. This will not only optimize the drug’s function, but also reduce the incidence of drug addiction.

The high-tech pill will be used to identify a patient’s consumption routine, allowing any changed patterns to be detected. Doctors are then able to intervene with any emerging addiction problems much sooner and with more knowledge, creating a radical shift from reactive based treatment to proactive.

The future

The pill is not yet fully functional for everyday use, with a number of components still requiring improvements. The electronic reader worn around patients’ necks is currently quite large, due to the weakness of the pill’s signal strength. However, further research should enable the pill’s signal to improve and the device to be made more minor.

The ultimate vision is for the technology to become integrated into people’s everyday life, without introducing any extra hassle. For example, the reader may be incorporated into a smart watch wristband, which would provide the same outcome, without any added inconvenience.

Privacy concerns will be a major hurtle to the success of the technology, given many people will not consent to the tracking. However, its potential benefits are undeniable and if executed appropriately, it could possibly be a groundbreaking addition to community health solutions.