Tuesday, November 14, 2017

When Paranoia Meets Reality: Your Medicine Snitching On You



Medication non-compliance is a problem: patients don't take their pills.  We hear about it all the time in psychiatry: people don't take their medications and they relapse.  Sometimes they decide they don't need them when they do, sometimes they don't like the side effects or risks of the medications, but mostly, they just forget.  You may hear about this problem as if it belongs to psychiatry, but it doesn't.  Patients don't take their cardiac medications, either; in fact humans are only randomly compliant with all types of meds.

Swoop in technology, here to solve the problem.  Now sensors placed in tablets can notify the doctor and up to four other people to inform them if and when a patient has taken their pill!  And what pill was was the first to be approved for the use?  Abilify: an anti-psychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and also used to augment anti-depressants.  Was that the wisest choice?  To have a tattle-tale system in a medication used to treat paranoia?  I'm thinking there could be a better place to start.

So the patient swallows a medication and his stomach acid signals the sensor.  He also has to wear a skin patch on his abdomen, under his ribs.  A notice goes out to an App on his doctor's phone, and to anyone else he wants notified (presumably himself).  He has to consent to this, but questions have been raised about whether the courts will require patients to do this in terms of release from incarceration, for mental health courts, or if it will be priced in such a way to incentivize it's use.  Will people be coerced?  Will they like it?  Will they remember to check their App to see if their loved one took their medication?  Do doctors really want to be notified every time a patient takes their medications?  Will EMRs now have boxes to check to verify that the doctor has looked to see if the patient has swallowed his pill, as directed, daily, at the correct times? Will doctors be liable if they fail to check results and take action when patients aren't taking their medications and if there is a bad outcome? Will sensors work to improve medication adherence?  And then there is the Creepiness Factor.   You can tell I'm a bit skeptical of this, but that's not new.  ClinkShrink will happily tell you that I was wary of the Internet the first time I went surfing: too slow, it will never catch on.  I was wrong. 

Want to read more? Here's the New York Times article: First Digital Pill Approved to Worried About Biomedical Big Brother.

Your thoughts?