A biosensor is any device that’s used to track or measure activity in a living thing. They have been used for decades to detect chemical or physical reactions.
This information can then be collected and transmitted for virtually limitless purposes, including the diagnoses of health problems, real-time monitoring of vitals, and precisely controlled drug delivery.
Outside of the medical industry, biosensors are used for commercial and research applications, such as fermentation monitoring in beverage processing and environmental and ecological surveying in various settings.
In recent years, a combination of ultra-small technological devices and increasing sophistication in digital medicine have led to new horizons in biosensors and bioelectronics.
These special devices are incorporated into miniature medical sensing and diagnostic tools. Sometimes called digital pills or smart pills, they are tiny capsules that are meant to be swallowed like an ordinary medication tablet.
They’re made with biocompatible materials and contain advanced data collection and transmission components. Once inside the body, they can be used to carry out all manner of functions, including some that may change medical treatments and care provider capabilities.
Will they become a standard option in patient care?
What Happens After Swallowing A Smart Pill?
After a patient swallows a smart pill, the next steps could vary greatly depending on whether it’s a biosensor, imaging tool, or offers other medical capabilities.
In general, the device will move through the gastrointestinal tract. As it moves with the body’s natural digestive cycle, it can be used to collect very specific and detailed information, and on a level that would be difficult to reach with conventional internal diagnostic methods.
This means that digital pills could potentially replace procedures like endoscopies and colonoscopies. They can also be paired with medications to gather data on how the body responds and whether the treatment is effective or causing complications.
Smart pills could even be used to evaluate the body’s reaction to external stimuli, giving us a never-before-seen level of insight into how temperature, stress, physical activity, and other circumstances may affect various organs and biological systems.
Since the smart pill would be transmitting real-time data to doctors and other care providers, it could deliver insight that would be invaluable for seeing how an individual uniquely responds to a course of treatment, which could then be adjusted as needed.
The diagnostic and imaging potential could also open up treatment to more patients, allowing them to undergo checkups and multiple disease screenings by simply swallowing a pill and going about their day.
This means that expensive and invasive procedures could be entirely avoided and a wait-and-see approach to treatments could be greatly sped up, saving money and lives.
These are just some of the more commonly proposed benefits of incorporating biosensors and diagnostic devices in an ingestible form. While this can sound like a revolutionary asset for patients and their doctors, there are still questions that need to be answered and the potential for less-than-positive outcomes.
Digital Medicine And Patient Rights
Digital medicine isn’t nearly as futuristic as it may sound; The SmartPill system by Medtronic, for example, has been developed to seek out GI tract abnormalities and assist doctors in diagnostics.
More notably, In 2017, the FDA approved an ingestible sensor for monitoring ingestion of an antipsychotic drug. The specific ingestible biosensor and medication pairing never became a standard treatment, but it spurred many ethical questions and concerns over patient privacy, autonomy, and security.
While detailed and personalized data on a patient’s condition can be a major asset to a doctor treating an ailment, that same information could be accessed and misused by third parties.
There are also questions on how the rights of patients, especially those in vulnerable populations can be preserved. It’s one thing to use a digital pill instead of an endoscopy and another to use it for confirming medication adherence in a patient undergoing mental health treatment.
There are also questions of whether it’s ethical to monitor patient behaviors that might harm their health or that violate an insurance policy. This can put doctors in a difficult position.
For example, if a smart pill detects an illegal substance, is a doctor obligated to address or report this information, even when it’s unrelated to a patient’s course of treatment? These and many other scenarios will need to be addressed before digital pills are widely utilized and trusted as a medical treatment.