Are digital pills on the horizon?

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Are digital pills on the horizon?

The growth of medical technology is already changing the way patients receive medical care and how the healthcare industry is approaching the future. Is it possible that new digital technology will also reshape medicines themselves, and the pills we take? New digital pills are already in use, albeit in limited use, but as more patients become comfortable with wearable technology and personal engagement with digital medicine, the future may include tech that we swallow.

What are digital pills?
Digital pills are real, although currently in clinical trial phase only. Pills are taken by patients with a sensor that alerts a physician, pharmacist, or caregiver after the pill has been swallowed. The idea behind digital pills is that by tracking when patients take their drugs, health care providers will be able to ensure greater medication adherence and provide improved treatment guidance, with the goal of improved health outcomes.

How are they used?
After a patient swallows the capsule, the sensor actives when it gets wet in the stomach and pings a signal to a patch patients must also wear. That transmits data on the time, size of dose, and type of medication direct to a portal where providers and a patient’s support team can track dosing.

Is this new?
The first digital pills were approved by the FDA in 2017 for a medication meant to treat patients suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The technology has since advanced and is now being explored for use in chemotherapy treatment in oncology. The digital pills can often face challenges by payers and health plans due to their high costs that often keep these types of out of reach from patients.

Why digital pills?
Digital pills aim to solve a big and expensive problem – patients not taking their medications regularly or at all. The cost associated with medication non-adherence costs taxpayers an approximate $200 billion a year in the U.S. alone. Digital pills are being marketed as an internal GPS system for medications, able to track compliance with real-time use rather than relying on self-reporting.

Digital pills are designed to augment the traditional approach to medicine, but many in the health industry believe digital therapeutics, specifically digital drug companions, offer more efficient and effective means to medication adherence. Digital drug companions don’t rely on expensive sensor-laden capsules but use smartphone apps that capture use, provide guidance on proper dosing, and can give digital nudges to help patients achieve better health outcomes.

Are there other digital options?
Digital drug companions present a clearer business model and have more extensive data on effectiveness and delivering positive outcomes, as well as cost savings.  Digital drug companions are also compelling for pharmacy benefits managers, insurers, and pharmaceutical companies, which are all looking for ways to make medications more effective and prevent costly health outcomes like a trip to the emergency room.

Will digital pills increase medication adherence?
One of the biggest questions surrounding digital pills is ‘will it actually help patients with medication adherence issues?’ With small sample sizes and limited reach among certain conditions, it’s too early to tell how or if digital pills will increase medication adherence. It’s likely to take a few years to gather enough information to see a substantial impact on better medication adherence.

There is still a chance that people who are prescribed the digital pills will wear the accompanying patch on the skin that allows the digital pill to communication and send information and data to their smart phone. Patients may either forget to attach the patch to the skin and some people may even refuse to wear the patch in the first place. At this time, the patch also needs to be replaced every seven days, which may be an issue for some people as well – forgetting to change the patch could be quite common.

What does the future look like?
Whether its digital pills or digital drug companions, there is a lot of potential for both medical professionals and patients alike to improve medication adherence. The ability to collect important information and help patients improve their medication adherence will only help the improve and better their overall health as well. This type of smart medication and digital pills can revolutionize the way people take their medications and the ways medical professionals are able to help their patients get better.