As crazy as it sounds, tiny computers exist, the size of a poppy seed, and down the road they may report back when you took your medicine, and how your body responded to it.

David O’Reilly, the chief product officer at the company Proteus believes that someday soon every single pill a health care provider prescribes will come with an electronic component embedded in it that will track the pill’s absorption in your body. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved it.

Proteus calls it “digital medicine” in which your body’s vital signs and the medications entering the bloodstream can be tracked by computers. Obviously, the computer has to be tiny, and it attaches right to the pill. Proteus’ ingestible sensor is made of metals that people normally eat as part of their daily diets – silicon, copper and magnesium. The system uses a type of technology called “volume conduction.” The computer releases a series of tiny electric pulses, which a patch on the skin (not unlike a Band-Aid) picks up.

At the same time, the patch measures your vital signs – including heart rate and activity levels. When both data streams are correlated, the one from the pill and the one from the patch, you get a picture of the body responding to a pill. An app on the patient’s smartphone acts as the intelligence of the entire system.

A team of psychiatrists at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., has published work on using Proteus’ system to confirm that schizophrenic patients are taking their medications. With this self-tracking comes privacy concerns. Who gets access to the data? Do patients’ relatives? What about insurers?

So why should we care about this? Tech companies believe personalized data can make us healthier because software can spot patterns in our behavior that we might miss. Maybe it could detect that if you don’t take a medicine, you walk 2,000 fewer steps the next day. For now we rely on our own calorie counting for example, and activity trackers. The theory is that smarter, smaller, more automatic sensors could give us more precise information.

While we may not be comfortable with the implications of this new technology, especially in a world where our data are constantly bought and sold, Silicon Valley seems bent on pressing forward with this new technology.   6/18/14





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