A new patent has been filed for technology that would allow tracers to be placed inside pharmaceutical pills. The development could let doctors, family members or law enforcement monitor whether or not patients are taking their medication.
The molecular-sized tracers would be built into pills and would send information to supercomputers which could then send notifications to your cell phone, the technology's inventor, Donald Spector, told The Huffington Post in a phone interview Wednesday.
Spector said the information transmitted to the supercomputers could include the concentration of the drug in the bloodstream, among other data.
Spector, who is also the Chairman of the New York College of Health Professions, a non-profit institution providing education and community service in areas of holistic health, said the ingestible sensor could be applied to any pill, or to "virtually anything that's in the bloodstream."
The drug-tracker could be used, for example, by a family member to make sure an elderly relative is taking pills as prescribed, or by a mental institution that released a patient on the condition that the patient take a mandated dose of medicine on a regular basis.
Although other drug-tracking mechanisms are already on the market, Spector says his development is unique.
For instance, a pill-tracer that was launched early last year by Proteus Digital Health Inc., a California-based health and technology company, requires users to wear a patch on their skin for it to work. Spector's tracer, however, won't need this external device, he said, because it will communicate directly with the supercomputers from inside the body.
Spector said he couldn't give out more information on his patent because it is still unpublished.
Spector said he was motivated to develop the sensor to counter dangers he says can arise when people with mental illnesses stop taking their medications. "Anyone in psychiatry will tell you there's a big difference between people taking their meds or not. It happens all the time that people go off their meds and take their own lives," he remarked to HuffPost.
When asked about privacy concerns, Spector stressed that it's not up to him to determine how the technology is applied, but to lawmakers. "Who the supercomputer delivers that information to is more going to be the result of legislation rather than the invention," he said.
The new technology, however, could pose a civil liberties issue, NYU bioethicist Arthur Caplan told ABC News, which covered the story on Jan. 21. But Caplan also said that a legal judgment would probably be required before using the tracer on someone.
"Without a court order, it's difficult to make anybody have to go along with drug testing unless it becomes a condition of employment," Caplan told the network.
Initial development for the pill-tracing device will be finished in about one year, when testing will begin.
A previous version of this post misidentified the New York College of Health Professions.