Rethinking Healthcare

The chip inside you is tech that will not die

The chip inside you is tech that will not die

Posting in Healthcare

The Proteus technology can tell you when you need to take your medication, and the concept is proven to work.

Our friends at CNET are out with a feel-good story about silicon chips you could swallow 18 months from now, that will track your condition and report back.

The news here is that Novartis is looking to bring chip-pill technology from Proteus Biomedical to market very quickly.

By tacking the chip onto a pill that has already been approved, in this case one that prevents the failure of organ transplants, they may just have to prove that the new solution is as good as the old.

This is not new technology. Verichip, now part of PositiveID Corp., has been trying to build a market for implanted identity chips for a decade.

Critics call these Spychips and see Big Brother watching you. Some even refer to it as the mark of the beast. The generic name for this technology is Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID.

While Verichip did find some opportunity in tracking pets and people with Alzheimer's, the implant was also said to have had side effects.

What Proteus has done is make these chips even smaller, and cheaper, small and cheap enough to be swallowed, so they track not identity but medication. The New England Health Institute calls medication compliance a $290 billion opportunity.

The Proteus technology can tell you when you need to take your medication, and the concept is proven to work. The hope is that in the future swallowing a chip with sensors and a radio can even monitor drug dosages in real time, so medicine can be taken when it's needed, not just on a schedule.

Unfortunately the tracking and compliance issues are sometimes conflated, the stories told alongside one another.

This has let Luddites muddy the water, throwing up political objections to proven science.

It's important that we're clear on the various RFID technologies at issue here, and what they do:

  1. Identity chips can be implanted under the skin, and while they could contain vast amounts of data they also make you an open book. This is politically toxic.
  2. A swallowed chip that alerts you, or your doctor, of your medication schedule is a monitor, but the good kind. You choose to swallow the chip and you get the alerts.
  3. The promise, which Proteus calls the Raisin System, is that chips will be able to monitor medication levels inside the body, meaning you take medicine when you need it, not just on a schedule.

Each of these concepts represents an evolution. The identity chips had to fit inside a capsule. The swallowed chips don't but they are mainly radios. Tomorrow's systems will include sensors that provide real-time guidance on medication levels, giving you much finer control of what is in your body.

Don't let the crazy get you.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure