While this development seems somewhat surreal, I have no doubt that in a short amount of time, this will be the norm. The technology is so ready for this kind of application and the integration with smart phones and apps is a perfect complement. The only rub I see (beyond the one raised in the piece about whether ingesting a sensor is actually wise) is that most elderly or folks that might take advantage of this likely don't have smart phones. That said, their care givers most likely do and a few years out from now, the level of adoption will be extended further. Very cool innovation.
Good points, Beth. Yet even without smartphones could probably access the signal through a laptop. The message from the patch on the skin could be sent to any number of devices with little adjustment from the manufacturer.
Good point, Rob. The smart phone and apps make the package all the more compelling, but there can be modifications to the design to support more traditional and accessible (to the elderly, that is) devices. I'm thinking a link to those devices eldery can wear that they can use to contact someone in the event that they fall and can't get up (Come on, we've all seen those commercials).
Those commercials are horrible. But you're right, Beth, once you have the signal from the pill to the patch, there are any number of ways to deliver that data to something compatible with an elderly lifestyle.
This looks like an improvement, in terms of size anyway, on ingestible medical devices like the swallowable endoscope we reported on before http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1365&doc_id=231318 although that one had to incorporate a camera.
What frequency does the sensor use to transmit to the patch? Does the sensor repeat it's transmission until it fails? Does the signal strength drop off noticeably if the patch is not in close contact with the skin? Can an external receiver with a high gain antenna be used instead? - such as in a hospital room? Couldn't the patch be designed to use wifi when possible, to connect directly to a website without racking up data fees on a mobile plan? And how about coming up with a companion product, a pill box that can receive the data and display the current status? How does the patch get powered? Does the patch use an internal rechargeable battery? User replaceable battery? What kind of data security is in place to make sure nobody can tamper with the user profile? - could be a good market for selling pills if you can 'convince' your patch that you actually swallowed the pill when in fact the signal was spoofed. So some explanation of why it can't be spoofed would be nice. Like maybe a random number of sufficient number of bytes to ensure some lifespan of useable numbers without needing to repeat any. And will taking the pill apart to seperate the transmitter from the drug be easy, or is thewre some design focus on making the sensor purposely disintegrate with that kind of tampering? Privacy issues are of course, going to be a concern to a lot of people. I doubt the FDA will require this technology when all they do is say if it can be used. But Hitachi's RFID powder is a more serious concern, because it can continue sending data long after ingestion. This pill sounds like it will cease functioning when the electrodes are consumed. So a police state scenario might be impractical based on this pill. That RFID powder on the other hand....
This is so much more important than all the debate about how to "fund" medicine. There are lots of issues in that arena. Progress will be made through technology.
Over the past couple of years I have seen Martin Cooper, one to the developers of the first hand held cell phones at Motorola. During his standard speech Marty talks about combining medical sensors with communication technology to improve care. This is the realization of that vision.
Design News has recently featured articles about robotic surgery as well. Most fields of human endeavor have been made more efficient through design and technology. Currently, medicine is like policing. It's main effectiveness is evident after one has become ill. We need to use what we know to forestall that event, if possible.
It is very nice to see innovation that falls in line with the larger trend of caring and nurturing that we see throughout the world right now. As the article mentioned, this is very helpful for patients who are busy or forgetful. It's good for caregivers.
One other thought I had was that this could help with prescription fraud. Recreational use of prescription drugs is at an all-time high. Inconsistencies or someone refusing to use this could send a warning signal.
This will not work well for monitoring trafficking because the pill as described here only functions when consumed. Unless everyone is required to wear a patch at all times in order to catch the signal when the wrong person takes a pill. You can attempt to monitor for unused pills by attempting to interpolate ghost data, but there will always be plenty of legitimate reasons for why pills go unused. Lost, uneeded, misplaced, ect. So what kind of resources will be needed to run down every false alarm? Plus to even think of using this as a trafficking monitor, will require every manufacturer of a given kind of medication to use this sensor. Of course that would be great business for this company developing it! But the sudden increase in costs will be problematic at best. A much better way to monitor drug trafficking is to use a type of signal that works at all times even while still in the original prescription container, which can not be easily removed from the drug itself. Something that is designed around an active scanner which can be deployed by anyone in the field to scan at random for any out of place signal.
Pharmacology is the applied science of chemistry, taking known chemical compounds and subjecting them into environments where they will chemically react in an expected and repeatable manner. All medications work this way. The essential point of this innovative technology is the same, as the article points out: "...the size of a grain of sand, it includes two elements found in food: magnesium and copper. The two metals act as electrodes to form an electrochemical reaction when they contact stomach fluid." This is an epiphany; taking common electronic elements and placing them into a biological environment, yielding repeatable expected results. Absolutely phenomenal discovery. Kudos to the researchers and to the FDA for approving this.
Regarding the statement made about privacy concerns, ("There have been some red flags raised over the potentially invasive nature of integrating a digital tracking device into a medication.") Have you ever noticed that most people who object to privacy issues are usually doing something illegal-? Like illegal drug trafficking, for example. Legitimate users of this technology should have no objections; and if they do there are several links in the communication chain they can easily unplug, such as the WiFi link outbound from the mobile phone app. Sheesh. Some folks would complain over a winning Lotto ticket...
Research shows that the real divide on privacy concerns is primarily that older people are more often concerned, and younger people are less often concerned. Do you have any information to support your rather strange assertion?
I would tend to agree with your statement about older persons vs. younger persons. No argument.
Regarding my other (just an opinion) regarding objections on privacy, I have nothing concrete to give you except my life experiences with un-warranted objections from the mis-informed, often over speculative issues that don't really exist, crying foul over the slightest implication of Big-Brother getting into their personal space. I don't buy into that level of privacy, and accordingly, I do not object, (for example) to being screened at an airport before boarding an aircraft.
My point being, I don't see anything to "cry foul" over ,,,,, yet someone always does.
"Legitimate users of this technology should have no objections" So if I have an objection, that makes me a criminal?
Yes, Pollyanna, and the only people who need civil rights are criminals. That ranks right up there with "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from police".
Doesn't anybody think this is a little too Orwellian?
"Citizen, ingest your soma immediately or we'll send somebody to do it for you."
"You, with the green sweater, take your herpes medication immediately!"
"Sir, please hold your license up for me to inspect, I don't want to touch it on account of what you're taking medication for!"
"Whoa, look what this guy's taking pills for!"
If the patient has the ability to make an informed decision because they believe the technology is of benefit, without them being forced to accept the monitoring as a condition for receiving treatment, then great, I'm all for it. If the FDA mandates the tech has to go into every pill, then the implications are cause for concern, to put it mildly.
I always keep thinking, whenever I hear that same meme: 'I have nothing to hide because I never do anything' - what about this instead: 'You have nothing to hide but your privacy'. Combined with the fact that anyone can be found guilty of anything simply by taking anything they say out of context in just the right way. Or simply just taking the fact that they made a statement, to imply that they said something they didn't mean.
Your objections are precisely the point I'm lampooning ... being that people often swing to the extreme Fear of Big Brother (your Orwell reference). For me, I view it as just another technology advancement, and I'm not intimidated by any theoretical ramifications. Guess I'm just naïve that way. I do tend to look for the "Good" in people.
Your Pollyanna viewpoint is precisely what I am lampooning.
So, if the FDA mandates the technology has to go into every pill, how long do you think it will be before the police insist they need the ability to access the information? Do you want a screener at the airport asking you why you're taking a particular medication, with a couple of business associates listening in? Where does it stop? Have you ever read 'The Patriot Act'?
It's fine to look for the good in people. The jaw-dropping leap to assuming all people are good surprises me, particularly in a forum where understanding of the subject matter requires a solid background in logic.
If the scanners for these medications become widely available to the underground, people could be targeted for their medications. Criminal walks into a shopping mall, detects that someone is ingesting some type of "desirable" painkiller and follows them to a non-public area or their home?
I'm not really concerned about security, as the signal to the patch is bio-electrochemical and virtually undetectable to the outside. As for the patch-smartphone app link, people talk on their cell phones all day long without worry, and I guarantee it is easier to intercept a voice call rather than a short, encrypted data burst. Quite a lot of things would have to be perfectly optimal to pose a security risk.
The article does not say that the signal is bio-electrochemical. The power source for the so called 'sensor' is bio-chemical. The article does not explain how the data gets transmitted, but I would assume the simplest approach is to use an RF transmission. In that case, how do you prevent a very high gain antenna from intercepting the signal? But, seeing as the article doesn't say that RF is used, maybe they did something more interesting like transmit with static conduction to the patch. The patch itself could be built cheaply, to just retransmit the data as is, but the patch could also be using some form of encryption. The hacker scene has demonstrated years ago how to intercept bluetooth connections to pull funny pranks on people who think they are still talking to someone on their phone. No major credit card scams I know of yet have come of it. The police use a man-in-the-middle attack that everyone knows about yet still haven't quite figured out well. Just setup a false 'cell tower' near your target. The target device will automatically switch to the stronger signal which is the core fundamental reason why all cell phones work so flawlessly. No matter who made the phone or what model it is, it will always connect to the strongest signal. Then you retransmit that to the real cell tower, so that the target never has a clue. You get all the data. Voice, text, everything except root access to the phone. So this doesnt necessarily enable remotely turning on the phone's microphone while leaving the phone 'off'. But it certainly can allow randomely monitoring a crown for any telltale datastream for this new kind of pill. Unless of course, you were to take security very seriously. In which case there will not be any 'telltale' datastream!
I know that elderly patients often lose track of their medications but -- yikes! -- 50% of the medications prescribed by doctors are never taken? That's an amazing statistic. If I hadn't seen that statistic, I might be inclined to wonder why this technology is needed.
I think the privacy matters are definitely a concern and I'm sure those criminals seeking to take advantage of the system can and will find a means to do so. I suppose this risk will always be wth us. I will say this though, my parents are 90 years old and something as uncomplicated to most people under the age of 70 can be quite cumbersome when you are 75 + and in marginal health. Each weekend I call my parents to make sure they have "loaded" their pill boxs. We go over each medication day by day to insure they have the proper number of medications and the proper medications for the week. It would be marvelous if such a device as the one mentioned could actually be approved by the FDA. It would mean that after my Sunday call, I could be assured they actually took the pills. Having a "download" to my tablet or computer on a daily basis would provide me with information AND "hard copy" if needed for their doctors to study. I can imagine this being a real help if parents and their children live in differing cities, states, countries, etc. I think this is a great idea and one project that should be continued.
A pillbox that takes full advantage of this new tech, would not need to be 'loaded' in the prescription schedule like you have become used to, but can instead be bulk loaded. It would receive the data stream and automatically subtract from the daily schedule. Then display which pills are to be taken next. Or maybe even just have only one lever to release pills and the box decides which ones to drop next with an alarm for when to do so.
@bobjengr: Your thoughts on this are similar to my own. When my mother-in-law was still alive, we made regular trips to fill her pillbox. There would rarely be a time that she took all of her medication and then she would argue how she had. "I ran my finger around there and it was empty." She could never explain how the pills got back in the box, but that did not change her assertions that she had taken them all. On second thought, she would have just claimed the sensor was in error and it would add nothing.
My solution is to make one of the pills a water pill. Trust me, you know when you have taken that devil and I do not need an external device to alert me.
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