Medicine and Technology Merge To Treat Patients

Easy to Swallow

It sounds like something from science fiction, but it may be the beginning of the newest trend in healthcare. “It” is a new tool that could change the way medicine is administered and monitored.

Last November the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Abilify MyCite (aripiprazole tablets with sensor). Merging medicine and technology for patient care, Abilify MyCite is the first pill that has a digital sensor to track if and when it has been taken. The drug, which is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and administered in combination with other drugs to treat major depressive disorder, was developed by Otsuka Pharmaceuticals. Its non-digital form was approved by the FDA in 2002 and is a top selling drug in the US.

According to an article in Clinical Leader by Sofija Jovic, PhD, MBA, clinical psychologist and executive leader, WCG, the latest version of the pill combines the drug formulation with an ingestible sensor, which was developed by Proteus Digital Health. This ingestible sensor allows patients and their caregivers to monitor and possibly increase medication adherence and treatment compliance. This news could have major ramifications for all of healthcare, bringing technology to the forefront of remote, personalized care.

An article in Risk Management and Healthcare Policy says that medication nonadherence ranges from 25 to 50 percent, applies to people from all backgrounds, contributes to less-than-optimal clinical outcomes and costs from $100 billion to $300 billion in annual avoidable health care costs. It is especially prevalent in patients being treated for mental illness. The more vulnerable such patients are, the less likely they are to comply with their treatment. Sometimes that can lead to as many as 30 days in the hospital.

Now patients can have greater control over their healthcare by using the digital pill to activate their support systems remotely. It enables caregivers to collect accurate, objective data on medication adherence and effect. Providers can determine patients that might be at risk for noncompliance and take measures to help them. Data collected from digital pills may be able to provide clues to compliance, efficacy, safety and other issues. Digital equipment of all sorts can help physicians to transform all kinds of meaningful data into tools for prevention and cure.

As Dr. Jovic said, “Advances in digital health allow us to collect and measure all of the data we emit as patients—from smartphones and watches to other wearable devices —and transform it into useable, meaningful information. Smartphone activity in the middle of the night could indicate disturbed sleep patterns, while changing language patterns in text messages might reveal a dangerous shift in mood. By piecing together genetic, behavioral and social clues, clinicians will be able to deliver a more personalized and predictive form of patient care.”

While she acknowledged the ethical considerations involved in digital medicine, she focused on its promise. In spite of privacy concerns, which can be addressed by regulations, she concluded, “The greatest risk is maintaining the status quo.”