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The Emergence of Trackable Pill Technology: Hype or Hope?

Weighing the benefits and the drawbacks

Technological advances in the domain of wearable medical technology have optimized delivery and efficiency of healthcare throughout the medical spectrum. The combination of wearable technology with a Digital Ingestion Tracking Program (DITP) embedded within a pill has further enhanced functionality. Within the field of pain management, there is an emerging application for the use of this dynamic combination.

Heralding a new era in pharmacotherapeutics, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved the first-ever drug equipped with DITP. This revolutionary advance has created huge potential for further expansion of the technology to other pharmacological agents, including pain medication.

How it Works

Digital Ingestion Tracking Program functions through a closed loop program in which the patient has full control.1 Embedded within each pill is an ingestible event marker (IEM), which is a unique sensor designed to track drug ingestion. The IEM is made of a copper, magnesium, and silicon assembly that allows the combination of the patient’s stomach acid to function as an organic battery. The IEM offers a safe option for transmitting secure information to a wearable patch worn by the patient. The signal is transmitted from the wearable patch to a mobile application on the patient’s smartphone. An additional signal is sent from the smartphone application through the cloud to a secured web portal that the physician is able to access. This process allows the patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers to conveniently monitor ingestion of medications.

Potential Benefits

The advantages of DITP are multiple, including improved patient compliance and enhanced adherence. By equipping a patient with DITP, physicians are able to corroborate whether the patient has taken the prescribed pill and at precisely what time. For patients on pain medication, this information is immensely important as compliance is a cornerstone of proper pain management. Knowing that the patient has consumed his or her prescribed regimen, as directed, may enforce and support statutory safeguards and prevent improper diversion of pills and overdose. In the event that a patient chooses to deviate from his or her original dosing schedule, the DITP updates the portal, allowing the physician virtual access to patient information.

Potential Drawbacks

Despite the benefits, there are several salient limitations of the DITP including: potential for a “false-negative” response, increased cost, passive notifications of providers, and possible privacy concerns. While DITP helps to positively identify whether a patient has ingested a narcotic embedded with an IEM sensor, it does not necessarily ensure that the patient has not simultaneously ingested a non-IEM pill in an effort to overmedicate. The current era of opioid hyper-vigilance and public focus on the ill effects of narcotic medications (ie, opioids) has led to a heightened realization of the importance of optimized tracking methods. Technological solutions such as DITP offer a novel opportunity in this arena.

In this regard, DITP may provide an innovative strategy for enforcing the proper use of opioid drugs. Medicolegally, there are distinct advantages for pain practitioners to vigilantly monitor opioid use, adherence, and compliance among patients. With non-compliance or non-adherence to physician-prescribed regimens growing, and estimated at 100 billion dollars per year, the use of DITP may help ameliorate the issue.2

The Research

One recent study explored the clinical utility of DITP in emergency room pain patients.3 The Harvard study demonstrated that a digital pill is a reasonable method to measure opioid consumption patterns in patients with acute pain. Use of DITP further allowed intervention when opioid abuse was detected. This study revealed a 90% medication adherence to prescribed ingestion of opioids.

As the device is perfected, and some of the early version shortcomings are overcome, universal adoption by the physician community is predicted.

Last updated on: May 2, 2018
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