New ideas on how to counter polypharmacy risks

Over- and polymedication among the elderly is a risky business that we have covered earlier, eg. in a blog post by agjessica on Polypharmacy among the elderly. As Jessica recounts studies have shown that the risk of drug interactions (with potential negative consequences) increase from 6% to 50% in patients on 2 or 4-5 medications, respectively. Nevertheless, as the digitalization of healthcare gains grounds there are a couple of really interesting ideas out there on both how to better document the side effects caused by taking various medications at a time as well as on how to use technology to help elders (and others) out with keeping track of when they need to take their medications.

Last week I had the privilege to listen in to parts of a high level summit on the Globalization of the Healthcare Market, namely the Swedish American Life Sciences Summit, where Digital Healthcare was one of the subtopics of the year. As a former Mechatronics student I took a particular liking to two innovative solutions tackling the above challenge.

The first was presented by Nicolaus Henke, McKinsey’s Director of Healthcare Practice in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as an example of the future potential of the mix of technology and healthcare. Dr Henke explained how Proteus Digital Health (that just got FDA approval to sell their solution as a medical device a little over a month ago) has created a pill that, swallowed, together with the gastric acids of the body gets activated and the energy needed to start analyzing real-time conditions of the body, such as information related to the medication taken. This information is communicated to a wearable patch, that apart from receiving the signal from the edible sensor also records the time that the medication was taken, as well as a number of other factors related to the person’s health, such as heart beat, temperature, physical activity, position (standing, lying down) and rest patterns. The patch further communicates this information to one’s smartphone and a secure server in order to collect and analyze data in order to support medical adherence and effective monitoring of a person’s health. The person being monitored can, in turn, choose who can see this information (physicians, caregivers and/or family members, only him-/herself etc) as well as get feedback via notifications when medications are overdue.

Fascinating piece of solution in my opinion. Proteus Digital Health’s edible sensor can currently ‘only’ monitor the time, characteristics and identity of what you swallow, but the company is working on a solution that can analyze bodily measures on a more advanced scale. Since estimations have shown that as many as a third to half of the world’s patients don’t take their medications properly solutions like these apparently have a large target market. Even though development and research on biomedical telemetry from ingestible electronics has been around since the 60s Proteus D. H. have managed to put the first (and currently only) product on the market within this particular field. Looking forward to follow what the research community on related solutions is planning in the years to come.

The second solution was developed by one of the conference participants, Mr. Robert Pakter, CEO and founder of Pilljogger, a company that has created an app that helps people track their medical intakes and thanks them when they stay on track. Mr. Pakter shared that he and his company are planning on developing a feature where patients will be enabled to report side effects that they experience when taking different medicines. Given that the Pilljogger app already will keep track of the different medications the patient is taking, this will also provide for an opportunity to track different side effects that arise from the combination of different medications in certain patients on a wider scale, providing a unique material that can later be used for further research and conclusions in the field of polypharmacy.

Thus, after my brief and intense opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the Healthcare industry’s finest, I feel reassured that we can expect to see a lot of exciting things in the field of digital health in the year’s to come.

PS. I also wanted to shine a little light on an unrelated topic, namely the Not-For-Profit research organization MEND (Medicine in Need), that I also got the chance to listen in to last week, and that are doing amazing work on the formulation of vaccines, reengineering them in order to make them more easily distributed to the developing world (mainly by taking them out of the cold chain, that is often so much more difficult to maintain in the developing world). Really inspiring work! DS.

Image source: http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/devices/a-medical-sensor-you-can-swallow

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About agmiranda

Miranda Edner is an account manager currently working for a large American multinational technology and consulting corporation. She has a background in mechatronics engineering, industrial management, democratic development and dance. Her heart beats for global development, creativity and innovation.

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