"Smart Pills" Send Stats to Smartphones

"Smart Pills" Send Stats to Smartphones

A pill that sends vital signs straight to your smartphone may prove a breakthrough advancement, but the possible effects on modern medicine may push the limits between useful developments and digital doctoring.

Pharmaceutical companies are developing a pill containing a biodegradable chip along with the medication to send information on patient’s vital statistics to a smartphone, according to a recent article in Chemical and Engineering News. Developed by Californian start-up Proteus Medical and Swiss drugmaker Novartis, the “smart pill” includes a sensor that sends vitals like heart rate or glucose level to a skin patch worn by the patient. The skin patch then sends the information to the smartphone.

The pill operates like a digital physician, able to track glucose, heart rate and respiratory rate. The science behind the discovery is revolutionary, and offers a window for pharmaceutical companies to gather more patient reaction information than ever. But the advance will likely require further testing before it can be safely implemented as a surefire benefit and not a risk.

Smartphones are increasingly becoming a tool for health monitoring. Already, doctors can instantly access patient info via smartphones and tablets. Transmitting vitals to a smartphone is also a recent development that uses physical interaction with technology to monitor patient information.

The benefits of a “smart pill” apply to patients, doctors and pharmaceutical companies alike. The speed of receiving information could be life-saving, in certain cases, if the information transmitted from the pill to the phone is faster than a trip to the doctor’s office. And if the app allows pharmaceutical companies access to the data, researchers can use the real-time patient information instead of conducting expensive clinical trials.

But the concept of ingesting a computer chip won’t be easily swallowed by all patients. Though the chip is reportedly biodegradable, it’s unclear if traces of it could last in the system long-term. Additionally, gathering information doesn’t equal a diagnosis and a doctor who sees the data but not the patient may miss physical manifestations of symptoms.

The Food and Drug Administration would have to sign off on the pill before its implementation, an agency intent on monitoring digital and medical technology integration on smartphones and tablets.

The biomedical field is often regarded as one of the most advanced technological industries, with its ability to create and use life-saving inventions. Should a “smart pill” become the next way for doctors to help their patients, it signals a new way to research and treat health problems that plays on a common, age-old treatment.

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