The First FDA-Approved Digital Pill Is Raising Privacy Concerns

Photographed by Rachel Cabitt.
In a Black Mirror-esque move, the FDA has approved the first digital pill, which can use a sensor to digitally track whether or not a patient has taken their medication.
The pill, called Abilify MyCite, is a modification of Abilify, which is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and is an add-on treatment for depression.
Abilify Mycite contains a small ingestible sensor that interacts with a patch the patient wears, which communicates medical data to an app — which the patient can then voluntarily upload to a database for doctors and other authorized people to see.
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The sensor, which is the size of a grain of sand, activates an electric signal when it comes into contact with stomach acid. The patch on the patient's body will then receive the signal, and send information to the app — including when the pill was taken, and the exact dosage.
The patch can also record a lot more data than just your medication intake, including sleeping patterns, step count, activity, and heart rate. Oh, and it needs to be replaced every seven days. In addition to a doctor, patients can give four other people access to their information.
"Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for mental illness may be useful for some patients," Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
If you're worried about what this could mean for privacy, you're not the only one. As Harvard Medical School instructor Ameet Sarpatwari told The New York Times, the pill "has the potential to improve public health. [But] if used improperly, it could foster more mistrust instead of trust."
But for now, we can take comfort in the fact that patients can revoke other people's access to their information at any time. Hopefully, it'll do a lot more good than harm.
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