US allows digital pill to track patients
UNITED STATES: US regulators have approved the first drug with a sensor that alerts doctors when the medication has been taken, offering a new way of monitoring patients but also raising privacy concerns.
The digital pill combines two existing products: the former blockbuster psychiatric medication Abilify – long used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – with a sensor tracking system first approved in 2012.
The technology is intended to help prevent dangerous emergencies that can occur when patients skip their medication, such as manic episodes experienced by those suffering from bipolar disorder.
But the pill has not yet been shown to actually improve patients’ medication compliance, a feature insurers are likely to insist on before paying for the pill.
Additionally, patients must be willing to allow their doctors and caregivers to access the digital information.
These privacy issues are likely to crop up more often as drugmakers and medical device companies combine their products with technologies developed by Silicon Valley.
Experts say the technology could be a useful tool, but it will also change how doctors relate to their patients.
‘‘It’s truth serum time,’’ said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist. ‘‘Is the doctor going to start yelling at me? Am I going to get a big accusatory speech? How will that interaction be handled?’’
The technology carried risks for patient privacy as well if there were breaches of medical data or unauthorised use as a surveillance tool, said James Giordano, a professor of neurology.