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FDA Approves a 'Digital Pill' to Monitor Meds

It might save money, but some worry about a 'big brother' influence

Digital Drug Monitor


A sensor in the pill sends a message to a wearable patch, which transmits the information to a mobile app.

The FDA has approved a pill with a sensor that will digitally track patients’ use of medication.

The drug, called Abilify MyCite, will be used for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of bipolar I disorder and as “an add-on treatment for depression in adults,” the FDA said in a statement.

When the medication is swallowed, a sensor in the pill will send a message to a wearable patch, which then transmits the information to a mobile app so that patients can track their intake on their smartphones. With the consent of the patient, caregivers and doctors can also retrieve the information online.

Use of the new “digital pill” could lead to more consistent treatment of patients as well as save unnecessary costs down the road. But it also raises concerns that “big brother” is emerging.

Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist and the author of Listening to Prozac, told the New York Times that the new pill might amount to “packaging a medication with a tattletale.”

In the context of treating mental disorders, he told the Times, the digital pill "sounds like a potentially coercive tool.”

While the digital pill is approved so far only for Abilify MyCite, similar medications are in the works for various treatments from HIV to diabetes to heart-related problems. Some experts, according to the Times, believe that older people in particular might benefit from the technology as a reminder to take their medications and use the appropriate dosage.