Sensors small enough to be placed in patients’ medications are being tested as a means to provide digital feedback about patient adherence to drug-taking regimens. This new technology will be pilot tested in China for treating TB.
About the size of a salt grain, the sensor is activated when it gets wet from stomach juices, completing a circuit that generates a tiny voltage. The sensor has no battery or antenna. Digital data from the sensor, recorded by a skin patch worn on the torso, can be sent to a phone or computer. The data can then be viewed on a computer network by patients, caregivers, and physicians. The technology, devised by Redwood City, Calif.-based Proteus Digital Health Inc., was approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Overall, people only take their medications half of the time ... adherence is a really big issue across all treatments,” said Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health, a nonprofit medical service provider.
Proteus has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and China’s Center for Disease Control to test the technology for TB treatment. With the help of a $560,000 Gates Foundation grant, Proteus will test the sensors in Chinese TB patients. Treatment for TB can have unpleasant side effects, leading some patients to drop out of treatment and place others at risk.
Health experts question whether patients will accept the monitoring system. “People may not want to wear the patch and have the medications because they might feel like big brother is watching,” Topol conceded.
“The point of this technology is not to say you are being a bad patient. The point is to have accurate data,” said George Savage, Proteus’ chief medical officer and co-founder.