FDA approves electronic pills to track med adherence

If patients have the stomach for it, doctors can take medication adherence to a whole new depth.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved tiny digestible microchips that can be added to pills, allowing providers to monitor whether they take their medicine, Medical Xpress reports. The microchips previously had been allowed only in placebos to determine whether they worked and posed no danger. Redwood City, Calif.-based Proteus Digital Health plans to market the chips to drug manufacturers.

The chips, about the size of a grain of sand, are made of copper, magnesium and silicon. They react with stomach juices, then send a signal to a skin patch, which then relays it to a smartphone, then on to the doctor's office. Afterward, the chip dissolves and passes through the digestive system normally.

The chips are aimed more toward people taking medications for chronic conditions than those on a short round of antibiotics. They don't provide any information, though, on how well pills are absorbed or whether they help.

"The point is not for doctors to castigate people, but to understand how people are responding to their treatments," George Savage, Proteus co-founder and chief medical officer, told Nature.com. "This way doctors can prescribe a different dose or a different medicine if they learn that it's not being taken appropriately."

In a recent test of 76,000 urine screens conducted by Quest Diagnostics, 63 percent of the patients tested did not take their medications as directed. In a UCLA study about how physicians talk to patients about medication adherence, the doctors believed that it was ultimately a patient's responsibility to take their medications as prescribed, so they might have little interest in mining patients' innards.

Continuous monitoring holds promise to alert physicians immediately if there is a problem, though plenty of people, no doubt, will find it just too Big Brother.

Yet, the potential to continuously monitor your food intake could be helpful, according to Dvice. It imagines a device suggesting you eat one more piece of broccoli because you need more vitamins.

To learn more:
- here's the Medical Xpress post
- read the Nature.com article
- check out the Dvice piece