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UMMS researchers use digital pill to study medication adherence

By Bryan Goodchild and Sarah Willey

UMass Medical School Communications

October 05, 2015

Researchers at UMass Medical School will soon begin a pilot study to explore how a digital pill would allow doctors to monitor patients who do not take their medicine as prescribed in real-time–a major health care problem in the United States. 

“As many as 20 percent of people who get prescriptions do not get them filled, and 50 percent of patients do not take them as prescribed by their physician,” said Edward Boyer, MD, PhD, professor of emergency medicine and a toxicology expert. “Non-adherence can result in worsening health conditions and also an increase in health care costs because of unnecessary follow-up treatments, ER visits and even treatment failure.”

Dr. Boyer, Peter Chai, MD, a medical toxicology fellow, and colleagues published preliminary research in the Journal of Medical Toxicology that examined how an ingestible sensor or “digital pill” provides a new opportunity to improve medical adherence. As described in the paper, researchers have been working with e-Tect, the Florida-based biotech company that makes the ID-Cap system. It is a gelatin capsule with an embedded wireless sensor that comes in various sizes and is designed to hold the patient’s medicine. All the patients have to do is take their medicine as they normally would. The capsule dissolves in the body like a normal pill. Once ingested, stomach acid activates the pill, which contains a transmitter. A hip-mounted device about the size of an iPod then downloads critical information to the web.

“We will know within a few minutes of whether the patient has taken their medicine,” Boyer said. “The information will also alert us if a patient does not adhere to the prescription, giving us the opportunity to intervene and improve overall medication adherence.”

In the pilot study, researchers will analyze the medication adherence of up to 30 patients who are prescribed the opioid drug oxycodone on an as-needed basis after being treated in the emergency room with a below the knee extremity fracture. Researchers hope the information collected from the digital pill will give them a better sense of how the patients take their medications, when they take them and how many pills they ingest.   

“For the elderly who may have difficulty remembering to take their medication, this technology would be fantastic. For people who have to take medications on a long-term basis, this would be very useful. The applications for this kind of technology are enormous,” Boyer said.

Related link on UMassMedNow:
UMMS study shows Google Glass effective tool for toxicology consult in ER