High-Tech Patient Tracking: Smart Innovation or Invasion of Privacy?

High-Tech Patient Tracking: Smart Innovation or Invasion of Privacy?

Health care providers, insurers and regulators are increasingly turning to smart medication devices to track and treat patients with chronic pain. Two such devices have emerged recently that are on the cutting edge of the digital medicine frontier. One is a fingerprint tracking system intended to reduce painkiller abuse. The other is an ingestible smart sensor that physicians can use to monitor whether a patient is taking a prescribed medication.

Biometric Fingerprint Scanning

In southeast Ohio, Holzer Health System has enrolled in a $1.4 million pilot program that uses biometrics to track patient behavior. Holzer voluntarily collects fingerprints from patients in emergency rooms and urgent care settings. Later, when the patient goes to a doctor or pharmacy participating in the program, they may be required to submit to a fingerprint scan to get a prescription filled.

“We are excited about the potential of this new technology to help reduce prescription drug abuse, doctor shopping and sales of medications for the purposes of abuse,” said Orman Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

If the technology works, state officials say it could be adopted throughout Ohio– where an average of 67 opioid painkillers are prescribed to each resident annually. Health officials estimate four people in Ohio die from an overdose every day.

“We believe this pilot will add a level of security vital to combating addiction and overdose,” said Brent Saunders, chairman of Holzer Health System, who says only a few patients have declined to enroll in the program.

The fingerprint tracking system was designed by CrossChx, a company founded Sean Lane, an Afghan war veteran who saw how the military used fingerprint scanning at checkpoints to detect insurgents and other potentially dangerous people.

“Being a native of southeast Ohio, the fight against opiate abuse is very personal to me. We are honored to bring the CrossChx technology to the region to help individuals and families in the heart of the opiate addiction hot zone,” said Lane.

A Pill that Phones Home

Patients reluctant to be fingerprinted may find an ingestible sensor even harder to swallow.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a digital sensor designed to be swallowed by patients. Made by Proteus Digital Health, the sensor can report when a patient ingested a prescription drug, as well as a patient’s vital signs

“We are thrilled to have achieved this important milestone to market our ingestible sensor in theUnited Statesnow, as well as inEurope,” said Dr. George M. Savage, chief medical officer and co-founder of Proteus Digital Health. “We are very much looking forward to bringing the benefits of our ingestible sensor to the American public.”

Powered by stomach juices, the grain-of-sand sized sensor can be placed inside a pill. Once a patient swallows the tiny device, the sensor transmits the identity of the medication and timing of ingestion to a patch worn on the patient’s skin. The patch then relays the information to a mobile phone app that can also provide health care providers with vital signs such as heart rate, body temperature and rest patterns. The sensor is not permanent; it passes through the body similar to a high-fiber food.The goal of the ingestible sensor is to help physicians adjust medications and treatment methods, if needed.

“About half of all people don’t take medications like they’re supposed to,” Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, California who is not affiliated with Proteus Digital Health, told Nature. “This device could be a solution to that problem, so that doctors can know when to rev up a patient’s medication adherence.”

“The FDA validation represents a major milestone in digital medicine. Directly digitizing pills, for the first time, in conjunction with our wireless infrastructure, may prove to be the new standard for influencing medication adherence and significantly aid chronic disease management,” said Topol, author of “The Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare”.

Authored by: Elizabeth Magill