INGESTIBLE PILLS TO MONITOR PATIENTS' HEALTH RAISE PRIVACY CONCERNS

By Sheff Law on June 26, 2013

407266_pill camera.jpg Although not yet mainstream, ingestible pills equipped with computers and minuscule sensors are on the rise. Disguised as normal pills, these devices are able to monitor an impressive amount of health data and share this information with your doctor, all done wirelessly.

These pills are being created in the midst of various privacy concerns. Another device on the rise, Google Glass, has created a stir amongst privacy officials from 7 nations. Google Glass is a wearable computing device with capabilities similar to a smartphone.

Privacy officials across borders wrote last Wednesday to Larry Page, chief executive for Google, inquiring about the privacy implications of this new technology.

"Fears of ubiquitous surveillance of individuals by other individuals, whether through such recordings or through other applications currently being developed, have been raised," the officials wrote. "We understand that other companies are developing similar products, but you are a leader in this area, the first to test your product 'in the wild' so to speak, and the first to confront the ethical issues that such a product entails."

Following in the controversial footsteps of Google Glass is Proteus Digital Health, one of the creators of the ingestible pill. The Proteus pill does not even require a battery. The pills, which manage to stay intact as they travel down the intestinal tract, are stuffed with tiny sensors and transmitters.

"You will -- voluntarily, I might add -- take a pill, which you think of as a pill but is in fact a microscopic robot, which will monitor your systems" and wirelessly transmit information regarding your health, Eric E. Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, reported last fall. "If it makes the difference between health and death, you're going to want this thing."

For the Proteus pill, the body takes the place of a battery by serving as the power source. By equipping the sensor with magnesium and copper, Proteus found they could generate electricity from stomach acids, similar to how a potato can power a light bulb.

A patient's health information is sent to a doctor's phone app, which receives the data through a patch worn on the body. Doctors are now able to confirm a patient's adherence to their medications, monitor the medicine's effects on the body, and detect patterns of movement and rest.

As health care becomes more and more significant with the aging of baby boomers, the ingestible pill may prove indispensible. The company's executives support that these pills will help doctors treat a patient's issues, both physical and neurological.

For example, the Proteus pill could help patients with heart failure monitor blood flow and body temperature. In another case, pills could help patients suffering central nervous system issues, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's, by monitoring vital signs.

With the exception of privacy concerns, the Proteus pill seems to be receiving a predominantly positive response. The company raised $62.5 million from investors and gained the OK from the Food and Drug Administration.

"This is yet another one of these technologies where there are wonderful options and terrible options, simultaneously," said John Perry Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group. "The wonderful is that there are a great number of things you want to know about yourself on a continual basis, especially if you're diabetic or suffer from another disease. The terrible is that health insurance companies could know about the inner workings of your body."