Doctors in the US might soon start prescribing a pill that can tell them whether you've truly taken your medication. The Food and Drug administration has approved the country's first digitally tracked medicine to ensure patients comply with their prescriptions, since non-compliance is a costly problem that could negatively affect a patient's health. Still, medical professionals are raising concerns about using pills that can be tracked, especially because, for some reason, the drug the FDA approved is an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
The pill called Abilify MyCite has a sensor made of copper, magnesium and silicon that produces an electric signal when your stomach acids start the digestion process. Its accompanying patch that you need to stick to your ribcage sends the date and time when it detects the signal to a mobile app. You can then choose to share that data with your doctor or a family member.
While opting for the digital pill is voluntary -- you'll need to say yes to wearing a patch, after all -- some medical professionals are worried that insurers might offer huge incentives so that people would feel forced to use it. It could also eventually be required as a condition for parole or to release patients from psychiatric facilities, giving authorities an easy way to track individuals.
Which brings us back to the fact that Abilify MyCite is an antipsychotic drug.
Columbia University's chairman of psychiatry, Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, told The New York Times that "there's an irony in it being given to people with mental disorders than can include delusions. It's like a biomedical Big Brother." His colleague, Dr. Paul Appelbaum, Columbia's director of law, ethics and psychiatry pointed out that "drugs for almost any other condition would be a better place to start than a drug for schizophrenia."
That said, drugs that can be tracked do have a number of benefits. They can help medical professionals monitor the medicine intake of elderly patients who keep forgetting to take their medication. Doctors could use them to ensure post-surgical patients don't take too much opioid medication, which could develop into an addiction. And researchers can use them to make sure clinical trial participants are taking their experimental drugs correctly for the most accurate results possible.