Patients are pretty horrible at taking their medicine. One study last month found that non-compliance with heart disease medications is responsible for about 113,000 deaths annually.
That's makes this new development especially interesting: California-based Proteus Health Care is at work building tiny, embeddable digestible chips that would be able to tell doctors' when a patient has swallowed it:
The swallowed sensor is linked to a skin patch worn on the patient's torso, which captures the report sent by the sensor. About the size of a grain of salt, the sensor has no battery or antenna and is activated when it gets wet from stomach juices.
The skin patch records the digital message, along with the patient's heart rate, body angle and activity, and sends the data to a bluetooth-enabled device such as a phone or computer.
Doctors would then be able to follow up with non-compliant patients.
The Gates Foundation is now funding a study that uses the swallowed sensor to monitor tuberculosis patients in China, who need to adhere to a strict antibiotic regimen. The idea of monitoring medical compliance speaks to some larger trends in health care. You're seeing a lot more real-time and remote monitoring of patients everywhere from the homes of the elderly to corporate wellness initiatives, where pedometers can track how far each employee walks. They might mean we're getting healthier, and also that our health insurers, doctors and employers know a whole lot more about us.