Dr. Iltifat Husain’s physician take is at the end of this article

A small, technology-filled pill that patients swallow may help them remember to take their medication according to Dr. Peter Chai, a fellow in medical toxicology in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UMass Medical School. The technology incorporated into the pill consists of a radio frequency transmitter much like the ones department stores insert in clothing and other merchandise to deter thievery. When a patient ingests the pill, hydrochloric acid in his stomach activates the transmitter. A small device mounted on the patient’s belt then transmits data to clinicians about the patient’s pill-taking habits.

There’s little doubt that technology like this, if it eventually proves effective in a commercially available product, can have an impact on a major problem in healthcare, namely the cost incurred when patients fail to take their medication as directed. According to Lindsay Kalter, writing on the Boston Herald’s web site, noncompliance costs the United States between $100 billion and $300 billion a year, which includes the cost of avoidable hospital and nursing home admissions.

The digital pill may help lower these statistics by making it easier for patients to remember to take their medication. This is an especially important issue for those who have chronic diseases and need to take medication over the long-term, and who may not remember to take their medication if daily symptoms don’t prompt them to do so. As Dr. Ben Kruskal, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, points out: “We’ve gotten to an era now where we have a lot of medicines and a lot of conditions that are treatable, but we’re getting stymied by simple things like remembering to take medications.”

Although Dr Chai is still in the planning stage with his digital pill, he is in talks with eTect, a Florida-based biotech company, which has created a wireless system called ID-Cap that can be used in conjunction with the device.

Dr. Iltifat Husain’s take:

Price will be the most interesting component of this. Medication noncompliance is a big deal, but has more catastrophic events in certain patient populations. E.g. The 10% of patients who end up making the 90% in overall health costs. Focused medication compliance in that patient population with these types of devices would be the place to start.