Nivedit Majumdar Nivedit Majumdar

Self-Tracking Pills – The Next Big Thing in the Quantified Self?

Technology in general has come a very long way, specially in the last five years. With it, the Quantified Self has also evolved – from a habit which focused simply on tracking vital information and drawing valuable conclusions, to a full fledged movement that incorporates the usage of various tracking devices and monitors to make tracking all the more easier, Quantified Self has grown a lot.

But this brings up the question – what’s next in this field? We’ve already seen a host of fitness, sleep and emotion trackers which are aiding the QS movement, and IoT devices are involved as well. So what can be the next big breakthrough in QS and tracking?

The answer: pills. And in this article, I’ll be talking about how ‘Smart Pills’ and medication might prove to be the defining factor in the QS movement and healthcare in general.

THE HEALTHCARE SECTOR

The healthcare sector is getting more and more relevant by the day, owing to a more health-centric generation. This is an important factor to keep in mind, since in this article we are basically amalgamating the three key spheres of healthcare, technology and the Quantified Self movement.

emberify_forecast_for_major_healthcare_Sectors_in_us_Regarding_Spending
(Data Source: Statista)

According to Statista, in 2015, the total health spending in the U.S. alone will account for about $ 3.5 billion, which is almost one fifth of the country’s GDP! And out of this figure, $ 442 million accounts for only prescription drugs. These figures are expected to grow to about $ 5.2 billion and $ 702 million respectively in just five years, and this portrays the sheer relevance of the healthcare sector right now.

 

Mergers and acquisitions are something which we take into account to measure the relevance of a particular sector, and in this scenario too there aren’t any surprises. M&As have been on the rise since 2013, with the aggregate transactions in 2015 expected to grow to about $ 346.4 billion. More than providing investors an exit strategy, M&As are useful for companies to gain a broader market, revenue growth and sale resources through the new company.

emberify_transaction_value_of_mergers_and_acquisitions_in_the_us_healthcare_and_life_sciences_industry_2012_2015
(Data Source: Statista)

These statistics are relevant in this regard since it is important to demonstrate how QS and technology is now eyeing the healthcare sector as a booster to increase the user base.

THE CRUX OF THE MATTER

Smart pills have been envisioned for quite some time now, and some have even been realised. From pills with cameras to track the conditions within the food pipe, to complex dissolutions – the pill of the near future combines technology and health science in a novel manner.

However, the biggest disadvantages are often the most basic, and the same case applies here too. No matter how advanced a medicine is, it is utterly useless if a patient doesn’t take it in the first place! Proteus, a drug device that was recently accepted for review by the Food and Drug Administration, aims to combat this problem through a Smart Pill.

HOW IT WORKS

Proteus has designed quite an interesting approach for addressing the fact that medicines aren’t taken regularly by the patients, and it has done so by taking inspiration from Self Tracking and Technology in general.

The primary object in the procedure is the Pill –  an ingestible sensor which has a detection rate of 97.3% of ingredients and 100% accuracy in pill identification. The patient has to ingest this pill for the procedure to work (get the irony? :P), and the Pill – once ingested – dissolves in the stomach and forms a conducting circuit along with the stomach acids.

Here’s where the Patch comes in. It is a comfortable stick-on which the user has to put on his/her stomach. The dissolution of the Pill in the stomach generates some signals which are captured by the Patch. More than being able to track whether the user has taken the medicine or not, the Patch also tracks the user’s fitness, sleep patterns and heart rate, which is quite neat.

And finally, we come to the software side of things. The mechanism has a dedicated app and a portal – through which the users and practitioners / doctors alike can monitor the patient’s activities and decipher the frequency at which the user has been taking the medicines and also keep a track of vital stats.

THE CATCH

Bioethicists are concerned regarding the safety of the patient’s privacy in this case. Practically anyone can monitor the body’s reaction to a particular medicine now, and this would be compromising on the privacy factor in a major way. Moreover, enforcing someone to take a pill would quite likely be against the freedom of rejection of treatment. The major issues are mainly legal and ethical, rather than the usage or modus operandi itself.

BOTTOM LINE

All in all, to me this was quite an interesting approach to Self Tracking in general. This could be a foolproof example to demonstrate how self tracking and input from doctors can help in coming up with an ideal treatment plan which would enable the patient to get healthier faster in a more quantified manner.

Sign up for our monthly mailing list