Another Dubious Tech Solution in Healthcare?

When I saw the recent news about a pill with an ingestible sensor to track medication adherence/compliance, essentially the next level of Medication Event Monitoring Systems, I thought again about what I refer to as the “Belson Fallacy” – the belief that tech can solve every problem.

proteus discover image
The Proteus Discover

What I found particularly interesting was that this unique drug-device combination is intended for the “treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes linked with bipolar I disorder”, conditions that can include symptoms such as “extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs daily functioning“. So while on the surface, I do see a certain logic in having another means to ensure that patients are taking their medications, does this tech approach stand up under a little further scrutiny?

The manufacturer of the device was quoted as observing that, “Consumers already manage important tasks like banking, shopping, and communicating with friends and family by using their smartphones, as they go about their daily lives.” And while this is certainly true, doesn’t it take a leap of faith to believe that the human motivation that drives the use of consumer APPS would translate directly to human motivation that will drive patients on drug therapy to be compliant, especially patients who may not be thinking clearly – or possibly willing to intentionally obfuscate for reasons such as fear of drug side-effects?

And if the device were available for a wide variety of drugs that treat other diseases, then would the patient motivation to use the device be more similar to their desire to shop online and Tweet, or closer to being reminded of yet another task that they would rather not do or think about (like eating right and exercising occasionally)?

Further, if the device is even marginally useful and starts appearing in numerous pills across the spectrum of human disease therapy, then what are the consequences of that outcome? It’s been reported for some time that pharmaceuticals are showing up in our drinking water, and that the effects of this unintentional/unregulated drug dispensation on the Public is not fully understood. Add to this drug “runoff pollution” the additional sensor in the pill and the disposable receiving patch that the patient wears, and you may wonder where does that material end up in the environment and what is its effect on health of the World populations, human and otherwise?

To be fair, it has been noted that “the ability to boost patient compliance using this technology has not been proven and that the product should not be used to track drug ingestion in real-time.” And trying out new technologies that may improve health outcomes is reasonable and should provide objective evidence on effectiveness of the approach, and possibly new insight into methods that may prove effective (tech and other).

I’m just having trouble seeing why significant improvement in medication adherence/compliance would be expected through the use of this particular device, or how the potential health benefits of this device will outweigh the potential disbenefits of the associated technology.

Time will tell.

For a robust article on medication adherence/compliance, including monitoring technology, click here.

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