What is so wrong with making medication digital? David Wong, the executive editor of a humor writing website, once said, New technology is not good or evil in and of itself. Its all about how people choose to use it. A digital pill has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, causing controversy about making medication digital. Some people hear the words digital pills and automatically think of clear pills with wires and switches in them or something along such nature.
Although that is what technology based on, wires and switches, which is not the case for digital pills.
Digital pills are not loaded with wires and switches, they are much more simple than some people few them. The digital pill looks just like your normal medication but contains a very small sensor in the middle of the pill the size of a grain of sand (Robbins). A sensor in medication does sound a little unsafe at first, but it is not as harmful as it may appear.
Belluck explains that the sensor is made from harmless ingredients included in food, such as silicon, copper, and magnesium, making the sensor safe to ingest. Researchers have spent a lot of time to create this sensor that avoids any hazardous elements to improve today’s daily medications. The digital pill also comes with a patch worn on the outside of the body and an app on patients phones. Through Bluetooth, the app and patch connect to send information to patients, and anyone else the patients allows; the information contains dates and times of medication intake, size and type of medication, surgery recovery, problems within the body, and much more (MacMillian). While the idea of converting medications to digital pills appears to be alarming, they can be a step in the right direction for todays tech-savvy world because they can help with health expense problems, can help doctors, and can be beneficial to patients.
First, the digital pills can help with the expense problems in health care. Many patients do not take their medication as prescribed; statistics reveal 50% of patients do not use their drugs as intended (Mullard). Patients do not take their medication because they illegally sell the pills, forget to take them, or other reasons. When patients do not take their medication, it can cause problems that lead them to be hospitalized or other severe circumstances. These healthcare costs have been proven to be $100 billion to $300 billion a year in the United States (Mullard). However, healthcare costs are avoidable with the digital pill. The digital pill can help track if patients medications are taken, can help doctors catch problems before they get to the point of hospital visits, and can help the U.S. avoid unnecessary healthcare costs. Not only can the digital pill help lower healthcare costs for the entire United States, but the pill can also help lower healthcare costs for the patients. Fewer hospital visits mean fewer hospital bills for patients. Patients can also save money by simply just taking the pill. Dr. Eric, director of Scripps Translational Science Institute, predicated that insurance companies might give patients incentives to use the digital pill such as discounts on copayments (Belluck). On top of the United States and patients saving money, individual companies can also save money.
Individual healthcare companies spend copious amounts of money as they make and test medications, but sometimes the tests can be non-efficient due to the volunteers testing the medications. Many companies perform trail runs on the medication before they can place the drugs on the shelves in stores. However according to Mullard, when tests are being performed, the volunteers may forget to take the medication or not take it as prescribed for the test. Not only does this lead to a non-efficient test, but it also leads to a waste of money for the companies. Companies can escape the loss of money and non-efficient test problems with the digital pill. The digital pill can improve the companies’ clinical trials by tracking if the volunteers take the medication as prescribed. The companies can even use the digital pill to track the adherence for the volunteers, leading to more efficient trials and vast amounts of money saved.
Second, digital pills are a step in the right direction because they can help doctors. Typically people go into the hospital on their surgery date and then leave with prescribed medicine until it is time to come back for a follow-up appointment. However, sometimes plans change and people are not able to come back until a later date or maybe not at all; this leaves doctors clueless on how the healing process after surgery is going and if patients are taking their medication. Doctors can use the digital pill to their advantage to see if the patients are properly taking the medication, and even if the patients are healing correctly. As claimed by the Harvard Health Letter, there is more in development for the digital pill: Also on the horizon: orthopedic sensors that can tell doctors how well a hip, knee, or spinal implant is fusing with bone or coping with pressure (Digital). Instead of waiting until the follow-up appointment, that may or may not work out according to the patients schedules, doctors can track the patients recovery and catch any potential problems early.
Not every dose of medication is right for every person, but sometimes it is hard for doctors to tell the proper dose of medication to give patients for their treatments. An experiment in Minnesota was performed on seven patients that have colorectal cancer in stage three or four. The doctors who are treating these patients are using digital pills to help provide the proper treatment guidance for each patient (Robbins). The digital pills used in the experiment helps the doctors keep track of the medication intake and bodily functions within the patients. The proper dose can be given to each patient based on the reports on medication intake and everything else going on within the body. Many doctors have looked into the digital pill and some have already taken the plunge in trying out the new tech-savvy product:
Nine health systems in six states have begun prescribing it [digital pills] with medications for conditions including hypertension and hepatitis C, the company said, adding it has been found to improve adherence in patients with uncontrolled hypertension and others. AiCure, a smartphone-based visual recognition system in which patients document taking medicine, has had success with tuberculosis patients treated by Los Angeles County Health Department. (Belluck)
Last, the digital pill can be beneficial for all patients. The technology in digital pills have the ability to alert patients and doctors right away about a problem within the body. Dr. Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, explains, if were able to diagnose and treat you earlier, prevent emergencies, or predict whether you need to go to the doctor, that can potentially improve health and save money (Digital). Most people will not notice a problem in their body until it is time to go to the emergency room, but the digital pill can help with this problem. Even if it is a small alert such as forgetting to take your medication or a big alert such as a life-threatening blood sugar level, any alert is better than nothing that could help avoid worse outcomes.
Digital pills also have another special feature for the patients that allows them to control who can see the alerts and other updates. This feature specifically lets four other people monitor the patient, even family members, by sending alerts to their phone through an app. This quality can benefit patients in many ways. For example, a doctor may not be able to see an important alert about a patient right away because he or she is in surgery. However, a family member that lived close by would get the alert too and can go over and help the patient right away. A feature like this could save patients lives, and simply keep family members up to date on the daily health of loved ones. MacMillan introduces the case of loved ones living in assisted living homes. Sometimes families are not able to visit every day or have to go through multiple steps to be sure their loved ones have been given their medications. The digital pill can alert the family member or members phones of medications taken each day and of their loved ones health. However, if patients decide they do not want someone to see their information anymore, they can take them off anytime they would like (Robbins). Even though the digital pill has this control feature and many others, there is still controversy about medications going digital.
While some people view the idea of converting medications to digital pills as alarming, the idea is not as new as people think it is. Some people consider the digital pill as the first time technology has been incorporated with health, but technology has played a huge role in health for years. For example, pacemakers are inserted in the chest of patients to detect abnormal heart rhythms and they have been around for decades (Digital). A digital pill that tracks when medication is taken and other bodily functions is just another invention to improve on health gadgets such as the pacemaker. Instead of focusing on the pills benefits and exactly how it works, people are focusing on the word digital and automatically thinking the worst. The pill simply helps both patients and doctors track medication intake and catch problems going on in the body. Technology is nothing new in todays world and a digital pill is just a pill with a sensor, as MacMillian implies.
Although there is controversy about medications going digital, digital pills are a step in the right direction. As the research has demonstrated, the digital pill is an improvement of previous health tracking gadgets. The pills help the United States cut back on unnecessary health costs, helps doctors perform their jobs better, and helps patients health. So what is so wrong with making medication digital? Nothing. Yes, it may be frightening, but it is not as bad as sounds. New technology is not good or evil in and of itself. Its all about how people choose to use it, David Wong claims. The digital pill is people choosing to use technology in a helpful way. The advantages of digital pills outweigh the disadvantages and can lead to beneficial changes in the health field. After all, it is up to the patients if they would like to take digital pills, but why not take something that could potentially save your life?
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