The pill that reminds you when it's time to take your next dose

A new era of "intelligent medicines" is heralded today with the disclosure that the NHS is about to begin trials of pills that contain a microchip, reminding patients when to take them.

When the pills are swallowed the "edible" microchips react with the acid in the stomach sending a message to a sticking plaster containing a sensor strapped to the shoulder. If the patient has forgotten a dose, the sensor delivers a text message to the patient's phone reminding them to take their pills.

In addition, the sticking-plaster sensor monitors the patient's bodily functions such as heart rate and can recommend adjustments to the dose accordingly, which can also be delivered to the patient via text message. The sensor can also send messages via the internet to carers and, if wanted, other family members, updating them on the patient's condition.

If successful, the system could improve patients' well-being while reducing costs by avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions.

The technology, developed by the US company Proteus in California, is being tested initially on 40 NHS patients with heart failure at Imperial College Healthcare Trust in London and the Royal Berkshire Trust in Reading. If successful, the four-month trial will be followed by a larger year-long trial starting in 2011 to measure the effect of the system on reducing hospital admissions.

Patients in the NHS trial will be given versions of two standard heart drugs – bisoprolol, a beta blocker that slows the heart beat, and furosemide, a diuretic that reduces fluid in the tissues – with the microchips incorporated in them.

The sticking-plaster sensor will measure heart rate, physical activity and whether the patients remain lying down while sleeping. If they are frequently forced to sit up, that is a sign of increasing fluid on the lungs, a common and potentially serious side effect of heart failure which requires urgent adjustment of the dose.

Research suggests that between a third and a half of patients do not take their medicines as instructed, leading to worse health, more hospital admissions and wasting $290bn (£186bn) a year in the US, according to a report by the New England Healthcare Institute published last year.

Unpleasant side effects, confusion over instructions, forgetfulness, language barriers and feeling "too well" to need medicine are among the reasons cited for non-compliance. People with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure are least likely to stick to the regime prescribed by their doctor.

Nicholas Peters, professor of cardiology at Imperial College and a consultant to Proteus, said: "The whole idea of this technology is to inform patients about their own well-being, to encourage them to take the tablets and to take responsibility for their own health. It can help them stay stable and prevent them getting on to the slippery slope that leads to hospitalisation."

"People may say, 'Why do you need technology to detect a missed dose? If I feel ill I can adjust the dose.' But, in heart failure, once symptoms worsen it is often already too late. There is a narrow window. The patient can become fluid over-loaded and hospitalisation is the inevitable next step."

The microchip could be placed in almost any medicine. The technology has already been trialled in the US for psychiatric disorders where compliance is a particular problem.

Mobile-phone networks have already developed applications to remind patients to take their medicines, but the Proteus system, called Raisin, takes it a stage further. Networks could offer the application at a discount as an inducement to customers to join.

Dr Jerry Gurwitz, a geriatrician at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and expert on drug errors, said persuading patients to take the drugs they need is a challenging problem, especially among older people who live alone. "I think any person who is practising medicine is going to say it's one of the biggest challenges and frustrations of providing care to patients right now," he said.

The Proteus system has received the EU's consumer and health stamp of approval and the company is expected to seek regulatory approval for widespread use in the EU next year.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

    £18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

    Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific