Chicago researchers warn against using smart pills

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are warning patients and physicians against using smart pills until research can prove their successfulness.

UIC professors Eric Swirsky and Andrew Boyd recently published a paper in the American Journal of Bioethics cautioning healthcare providers and policymakers about using smart pills to track patient care.

Smart pills are described as prescription medications with edible electronic sensors that send wireless messages to devices outside the body after they’re ingested. People who support the technology hope they can help patients and doctors track drug regimen compliance, increase patient adherence and save money, while opponents of the pills have concerns about patient privacy and data sharing.

However, the authors questioned the benefits of the pills, saying there’s no evidence to suggerst smart pills can improve a patient’s life. They also said using using the technology challenges current research that shows patients benefit from working directly with their physicians.

“It is naive to think that this type of surveilled compliance with provider-recommended drug treatments will function like a magic pill. More likely, it will just challenge the ingenuity of patients,” Swirsky said in a statement.

The authors said smart pills should be evaluated on their clinical efficacy against the “standard of care drugs, like any other intervention, not based only on compliance or cost savings.”

“Smart pills are a dangerous reduction of the provider-patient relationship and there is no shortcut to improving patient adherence, which happens in a larger framework of home, work and clinical environments, not to mention perceptions and emotions,” Swirsky said. “This technology dumbs down an issue that is often very complex in the hopes of quickly solving an expensive medical challenge.”