Last week, I wrote about a new technology that informs parents when their children play hooky from school by monitoring the students’ whereabouts through GPS-enabled school uniforms. That level of electronic scrutiny seemed impressive and futuristic enough, but this morning, I came across an article that takes surveillance technology to a new level.
Thought the idea of your t-shirt texting your mom was weird? Try your stomach texting your doctor.
A California-based “Intelligent Medicine” company called Proteus Biomedical has pioneered a technology called “ingestible event monitors” (IEMs), which are miniscule digestible sensors, made from food ingredients, that are activated by stomach fluids after being swallowed. Once the sensor is activated, it measures physiologic parameters such as heart rate, activity, and respiratory rate, and transmits this information to a sensor patch worn on the skin.
If a patient forgets to take a dose of prescribed medication, the IEM will detect this imbalance and send a text message to both patient and physician.
Steve Gray, healthcare services director of Lloyds Pharmacy, the U.K. chain where the IEM chips will debut, explained the reasoning behind his company’s decision to market the technology: “There is a huge problem with medicines not being taken correctly. Anyone taking several medications knows how easy it can be to lose track of whether or not you’ve taken the correct tablets that day. Add to that complex health issues and families caring for loved ones who may not live with them and you can appreciate the benefits of an information service that helps patients get the most from their treatments and for families to help them remain well.”
In fact, according to a report from the New England Healthcare Institute, patients who neglect to take their medications on time cost the American health system approximately $290 billion each year. That’s twice the federal government’s yearly education budget.
Of course, with increased surveillance comes the inevitable boost of privacy concerns. Experts worry that the leap between automatic notification and violation of privacy rights is cause for alarm, which seems a logical concern. But when numbers like 290 billion enter the equation, one wonders how likely it is that these protestations will be heard.
If medical technology continues to evolve at this rate, it won’t be long before your doctor and your spleen are texting each other photos of your internal organs with “LOL” captions. And you won’t be in on the joke.