By: Poola Jaeel

Companies, start-ups and research groups are now getting more intimate with patient monitoring by introducing a new line of ingestible sensors.

Members of physically strenuous fields–such as athletes, firefighters and astronauts–already use this type of technology to track changes in vital signs.

Now it is entering the more mainstream realm of your doctor’s office.

The sensors look like an average size oblong vitamin pill, except with a lot of high tech additions to measure and transmit health information to the outside world.

Basically, the patient ingests the prescribed pill like any other–with food, water or milk. Once the pill enters their stomach, it can track and report whether patients are taking other prescribed medication, how the medication is reacting to their body and what possible adjustments can be made to their course of treatment. All of this information can be shared with a healthcare provider.

Multiple start-up companies are already creating variations on this concept. The pill created by Proteus Digital Health generates its own electricity using the body as a power source and then uses an external wearable patch to transmit information to a computing device. HQ Inc’s version of the pill (called the CorTemp Ingestible Core Body Temperature Sensor) is specially designed to wirelessly report real time body temperature to the user.

Technology giants, like Google and Motorola, are exploring the possibilities of this technology outside the realm of health. By equipping a transmitting device inside a person’s body, it can communicate with external devices to verify that person’s identity. As Motorola senior vice president Regina Dugan demonstrated at a recent All Things Digital technology conference, once the owner picks up their phone or sits in their car, the sensor device can identify the owner and turn on automatically. “Essentially, your entire body becomes your authentication token,” Ms. Dugan said.

Patient privacy advocates have been thorough in their assessment of potential risks. Says founder of privacy advocacy Electronic Frontier Foundation, John Perry Barlow, “ This is yet another one of these technologies where there are wonderful options and terrible options, simultaneously. The wonderful is that there are a great number of things you want to know about yourself on a continual basis, especially if you’re diabetic or suffer from another disease. The terrible is that health insurance companies could know about the inner workings of your body.”

The concern of how health insurance companies can use information like this comes at a time when the Affordable Care Act is set to introduce thousands of newly insured individuals to the healthcare system. A second concern comes from questions of sustainability of the pill. Each forty-six dollar pill is currently able to stay in the body for about twenty-four hours.

For accurate, consistent health information–or even for the user to automatically turn on their car regularly–developers may need to create a pill that can stay in the body longer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Proteus pill last year. They will be available to be prescribed as early as 2014.

Source: New York Times Bits Blog