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Privacy Concerns of Patients on Smart Pills must be addressed: Study

While smart pills have emerged as the new digital health tool that help patients and doctors track drug regimen compliance as well as increase patient adherence, its ethical issues such as patient privacy, consent and data sharing must be addressed, researchers argue.

Smart pills, or digital pills, are prescription medications equipped with edible electronic sensors that send wireless messages to devices, like patches and smartphones or tablets, outside the body when they are ingested. 

Health care providers and policymakers need to exercise caution in allowing this technology in patient care settings as it can also dump down the doctor-patient relationship, the researchers warned.

"Smart pills are a dangerous reduction of the provider-patient relationship and there is no shortcut to improving patient adherence, which happens in a larger framework of home, work and clinical environments, not to mention perceptions and emotions," said Eric Swirsky, clinical Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). 

Swirsky said that there is simply no evidence yet to suggest smart pills benefit patients as much as traditional medical care.

"It is naive to think that this type of surveilled compliance with provider-recommended drug treatments will function like a magic pill. 

"More likely, it will just challenge the ingenuity of patients. 

"This technology dumbs down an issue that is often very complex in the hopes of quickly solving an expensive medical challenge," Swirsky said. 

The study, published in the American Journal of Bioethics, warned that smart pills should be evaluated based on their clinical efficacy against the standard of care drugs, like any other intervention, not based only on compliance or cost savings.

Use of data-based technology should also not outpace public policy and legislation in properly regulating how this data is shared, used or purchased by companies, said Andrew Boyd, Associate Professor at the UIC.

"Health information technology functions best when implemented in conjunction with doctors and patients in a collaborative manner," the researchers said. 

"With no magic pill to cure the ills of the modern doctor-patient relationship, patients would be better served by providers who seek a comprehensive understanding of adherence than those who employ technology they do not understand."

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