by Violet Wallerstein
According to the New York Times, on November 12, the first digital pill was approved by the FDA. This pill, Abilify MyCite, while not the first digital medication, is the first to be approved. This drug helps to alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder and major depressive disorder, but the larger issue is how digital pills function and what this means for health care.
A digital pill includes a sensor that sends a signal to an external device when it is swallowed and comes into contact with stomach acid. It is additionally tracked by a sensor attached to the patient’s chest that must be replaced once a week. Most digital medication systems are attached to an app that then tracks when the medication was taken. This data can be shared with the physician and up to four others such as friends or family.
The sharing of this information has been the most controversial part of this plan. The main concern is the privacy of the patients which could potentially be violated by this automatic sharing of when they take their medications. However, as this is a concern, part of the Abilify MyCite program is that the patient can restrict who can see their data whenever they like.
These pills are also under scrutiny for potentially being mandatory for people who want to be released on parole or to leave a psychiatric hospital.
The hope of this program is to improve adherence to medication programs. Currently, patients not taking their prescribed medication or not following lifestyle recommendations are costing upwards of 100 billion dollars a year. Having trackers in place may lead to better adherence to treatment programs, leading to healthier patients and lower costs.
While this technology is controversial, it is coming to the general population in the upcoming years. We will have to wait to see the impacts of these new methods of medication.