One of the biggest challenges for caregivers and health professionals is helping patients adhere to their prescription medication schedules. Many treatments require specific doses taken at regular intervals, and missed or late doses can cause problems ranging from a nuisance to a life-threatening episode. This problem occurs more frequently with elderly patients, especially when they are living independently in their own home.
Proteus Digital Health has addressed this problem by developing their Helius medication tracking system. It consists of three parts: “smart” pills, a patch worn on the outside of the patient’s abdomen, and a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a smartphone or tablet.
The most intriguing component has to be the smart pills. These contain a microchip about the size of a “grain of sand” according to the company, encoded with a unique serial number. The chip has no battery or antenna, however. It relies on the galvanic reaction to dissimilar metals in an acid to produce the tiny amount of electricity needed to power the device. (Your stomach provides the required acid.) As the marked pill passes through your stomach, the patch detects its presence and records its ID number. It then relays this data via Bluetooth connection to an app running on the smartphone or tablet.
The result is a system that keeps a record of when medications were taken, and can send reminders to the patient, caregivers, or healthcare workers in the event of a missed dosage. The system is approved in Europe and in the U.S. by the FDA, though it is still in commercial pilot tests. It is currently approved for heart failure and hypertension, but approval for other chronic conditions is expected soon.