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Some pills will come with sensors that can tell doctors when you swallow them

Some pills will come with sensors that can tell doctors when you swallow them
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK

Wouldn't it be great if you got a little reminder "ding" on your smartphone every time you forgot to take your medicine? That day isn't too far off. In fact, it's just about here.

The Food and Drug Administration will begin evaluating a pill that's embedded with a sensor. The sensor alerts you, or your family or your doctor when you forget to take a pill.

This "digital medicine," as doctors call it, can be a lifesaver for people. The way it works is quite fascinating, and quite a bit less scary than you might imagine. For starters, you're not swallowing a computer chip.

Inside each pill are two thin layers of metal, magnesium and copper. Once they're being digested in your stomach, they ignite a miniscule spark. That signal is detected by a bandage-sized patch worn on the patient's body. The signal is sent to a smartphone app that the patient downloads, or gives permission to other people, like their family or doctor, to download and monitor.

This is a remarkable medical advance. In fact, the FDA approved the technology developed by Proteus Digital Health a few years ago. The difference now is that the FDA has approved it being tested for a specific drug, Abilify. It treats mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, and was the No. 1 best-selling medication in 2013. There are now generic alternatives available.

Next page: Is it ethical to monitor drug use?
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