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Proteus makes sure you’ll never miss a pill

By Evan Wade / November 7, 2013

Have you ever forgotten to take your prescription? It’s okay if the answer is yes. In fact, 50% of patients fail to take their medications correctly. It’s a surprisingly large figure with ramifications touching everything from the individual’s personal well being to public health care costs. That’s why Proteus Digital Health is developing a line of ingestible sensors that could improve the effectiveness of modern medicine and technology.

Meet mHealth

The concept of mHealth (short for Mobile Health) is relatively new, but the idea of combining healthcare and high-powered mobile devices is picking up steam. For the past four years, leaders of the medical and tech industries have converged in Washington DC to discuss the future of this budding industry at the annual mHealth Summit. The list of previous keynote speakers includes such illustrious names as Bill Gates and US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. These leaders of industry touch on topics ranging from App Development to Pharma & Life Sciences, which is exactly where Proteus comes in.

Brilliant pills

Are you a little weary of swallowing a piece of technology? Don’t be. According to Proteus’s website, “Digital Medicines will be the same pharmaceuticals you take today, with one small change: each pill will also contain a tiny sensor that can communicate, via our digital health feedback system, vital information about your medication-taking behaviors and how your body is responding.”

The Proteus sensors are made of the same ingestible ingredients found in many food products we eat every day. The sensors are then powered by naturally occurring stomach fluids, working in tandem with a microchip-equipped patch to monitor everything from when you take your medication to how it’s affecting your body.

Patients suffering from heart failure, central nervous system diseases or disorders requiring transplants could use ingestible chip/sensor technology to better follow their new care regime. Doctors could use similar data to help develop customized courses of action for each individual patient’s lifestyle.

Research wise, health care professionals could identify patterns related to select demographics or conditions, giving them insight into which practices work and which ones don’t. The sensors also reduce the chance of a patient giving incorrect information, intentional or otherwise, leading to more accurate results.

Like most medical breakthroughs, the future of digestible sensors sits firmly in the hands of the government. The FDA has approved Proteus sensors for use with placebos, thanks to “trials showing the chip to be safe and highly accurate,” but they’re still waiting for the greenlight to start working with more purposeful pharmaceuticals. The company’s end goal is to branch out to drugs that require long-term usage, such as diabetes and TB medications.

3 steps to a new health care system

Though modern medicine is often regarded as impersonal, a large part of Proteus’s allure comes from its ability to put the patient back at the center of the health care experience. Andrew Thompson, Proteus CEO and co-founder, discussed three criteria for a new health care system in a recent interview with advanced Internet usage, friend and family support, and effective medications.

Implemented properly, a digital mHealth management system like Proteus’s could accomplish all three of Thompson’s criteria, bringing with it a number of financial and health-based benefits. While they have yet to be fully approved by the FDA, there’s little doubt that these sensors can save lives and help propel the future of mHealth in the process.