New Digital Pills Allow University of Minnesota Medical School Doctors to Monitor Patients at Home

There’s an app for just about everything these days. Now thanks to a new treatment option offered at the University of Minnesota, there’s even one for cancer.

These new technologies, known as digital medicines are allowing doctors to monitor their patients, even after they leave the hospital. University of Minnesota Health and Fairview Health Services are the first in the world to apply digital medicines to cancer care.

“When we give people chemotherapy in the clinic with an intravenous drug, we’re able to assess the dose and timing and make sure they’re well enough to continue getting the treatment,” said University of Minnesota Physicians oncologist/hematologist Edward Greeno, MD, a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Medicine in an interview with the Washington Post. “But when you send them home with a bottle of pills, you don’t know when they’re taking them or if they’re well enough to take them.”

Dr. Greeno, who also directs the oncology service line for University of Minnesota Health, told the Star Tribune, “the technology could significantly improve cancer care because the timing and dosage of chemotherapy is critical.”

Dr. Greeno, along with other doctors at the Masonic Cancer Clinic at the University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center, have begun prescribing pills embedded with small, ingestible sensors. The sensors, designed by Proteus Digital Health, are only the size of a grain of sand, but can track a wealth of information that is helpful for doctors including heart rate, activity level and sleep cycle.

Once the pill is ingested, it sends the data to a small patch on the patient’s abdomen, which then connects to a mobile app that both the patient and their doctor can access.

This new technology will allow doctors to ensure patients are taking their medications as prescribed. Physicians can automatically tell how many pills a patient has left in their prescription, which helps them better manage refills and potentially save money for the patient. The technology can also give a sense of comfort to some patients, helping them take a more active role in managing their medication.

Digital medicine technology has been used to help patients manage medications for a variety of diseases, including diabetes and hypertension, but never before in cancer.

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