Digital Pill: Increasing Patient Accountability to Doctors

BioMedical Mondays 013: Hamza Waheed


When a person is sick in America, it is pretty commonplace to go to a doctor. The doctor diagnoses the problem and tells the patient what is going on. Afterwards, the doctor may give medications for the patient to use. However, there is a small problem. The patients sometimes do not take their medications. In America, around 2 billion prescriptions are given to patients.  About half of those drugs are not taken by patients or filled, costing the U.S. healthcare system around $100-$286 billion. Now, there is a solution: Abilify MyCite.

The product was approved by the FDA on November 13, 2017. It contains a pill, sensor, and an smartphone app. The device works similar to an EKG. Inside the pill, there is a sensor. The sensor works in a polar molecule (in this case, the hydrochloric acid in our stomach). When the pill is taken, everything is dissolved but the sensor.  The sensor generates a small electric current. If the patient took the pill, the sensor will notify the doctor that he or she did via bluetooth to the smartphone app. The signal sent is an encodation of a single number.

The signal sent can tell doctors many insights about their patients. It can notify doctors about what time the patient took the pill and whether they took the pill standing or sitting. But that is not all.  Abilify MyCite can also tell doctors how active a person is.  It does this through a wearable sensor on the skin, rather than the sensor embedded in the pill.  It works similar to a fitbit. All of these actions can only occur if the patient consents.

This technology raises many ethical concerns.  Who is the owner of the data?  Is the doctor, the company (Otsuka Pharmaceutical is the patent owner), or the patient?  Who can use the data? There are many companies that use such data to develop new products, understand people, and develop better policies through such data.  Last but not least, will human beings become cyborg-like?  Only time will tell.  In the future, similar products will be developed that track other parts of human health.  For now, having people use such technology will be difficult, along with getting the proper adherence and usage.