Saturday, January 16, 2010

Smart pills for health – look familiar?

The latest issue of the Economist magazine describes “smart pill” technology – the pill has an embedded chip that, once ingested, can transmit data to an external receiver such as a skin patch or a cell phone.

“…… the coupling of smart pills with wireless networks and mobile phones, allowing the information the pills capture to be beamed to doctors, patients and relatives, turns the technology into “a disruptive innovation about to happen”. Vitality, an American firm, has come up with a cap for pill bottles that telephones hapless patients if they fail to take their medicine on time. Vodafone, a mobile-phone operator, has just set up a mobile health unit in Britain. Orange, a French rival, already offers a service that records measurements from implanted heart monitors and transmits them to doctors via the internet. In Mexico, TelCel, the country’s biggest mobile operator, plans this month to launch a service that allows customers to determine whether they have flu using their mobile phones. Kalorama, a research group, estimates that sales of such services will leap from perhaps $4.3 billion last year to $9.6 billion by 2012.”

We have been talking for some time about the idea of using cell phones as enabling devices to collect and transmit health data. Especially since 4 billion people of the world now possess cell phones. We encourage the students in our medical device design class at MIT to consider incorporating cell phones and ICT to enhance the reach of their global health solutions.

“…There are some potential pitfalls, however. Stephen Oesterle of Medtronic, a devices firm involved in remote patient monitoring, thinks it a bit Orwellian for drug makers to keep such intimate tabs on their customers. He wonders whether spooked patients might disable all this clever kit. Tim van Biesen of Bain, a consultancy, believes that patients will need some kind of financial incentive to use smart pills.”

This is the idea behind XoutTB – our smart global health solution for ensuring drug compliance that combines the learnings of research on economic incentives research with science and technology. Evidently this idea has far-ranging applications.