Creating a digital pill

Technology battles medication noncompliance


Hospitalists and other physicians have long struggled with medication noncompliance, which can lead to sicker patients and higher rates of readmittance, and costs some $100-$289 billion a year.

There is a growing field of digital devices being developed to address this problem. The Food and Drug Administration has just approved the newest one: a medication with a sensor embedded that can tell doctors if, and when, patients take their medicine, according to an article in the New York Times.1 It’s expected to become available in 2018.

The digital medication is a version of the antipsychotic Abilify. Patients who agree to take it will sign consent forms allowing their doctors (and up to four other people) to receive electronic data showing the date and time pills are ingested.

The sensor, created by Proteus Digital Health, contains copper, magnesium, and silicon, all said to be safe ingredients found in foods. The electrical signal is created when stomach fluids contact the sensor; a patch worn on the rib cage detects that signal and sends the message.

Other companies are joining the race to create digital medication technologies; these are being tested in medications for patients with conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and HIV infection. Some researchers predict the technology might have applications for monitoring the opioid intake of postsurgical patients or patients in medication clinical trials.


1. Belluck P. “First Digital Pill Approved to Worries About Biomedical ‘Big Brother.’ ” New York Times. Nov 13, 2017.

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