Digital Pill? Don’t Worry, There’s an App for That


By Eleanor Jennings

In an interesting convergence of technology and medicine, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a digital pill. The pill contains a tracking device, or sensor, that can inform patient’s caregivers whether it was taken on time, or at all. Failure to adhere to drug regimens occurs frequently, especially when patients are taking medications for chronic conditions.

The name of the digital pill is AbilifyMyCite and the pharmaceutical ingredient it delivers (Abilify) must be taken on a strict schedule to help control the serious symptoms that occur with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd., AbilifyMyCite was cleared for use and sale in November 2017.

How Does the Digital Pill Work?

The sensor in the pill transmits to a wearable patch. The patch then sends information from the pill to a mobile application, enabling time tracking of the medication on a smartphone. The patient can give physicians and other caregivers access to this information through a web-based portal.  

The sensor, the size of a grain of salt, is battery- and antenna-free. It is made of copper, magnesium and silicon, which are safe ingredients found in many foods. When activated by stomach acids, a completed circuit occurs, thereby generating a tiny electrical charge. The patch senses the charge and records the date and time when medication was taken. The tracking device was developed by Proteus Digital Health.

It has not yet been proven that the use of a digital pill will improve patient compliance with their treatment routine. The New York Times interviewed several patients under treatment for such disorders. Their reactions to the digital pill ranged from never wanting to take AbilifyMyCite again after participating in the clinical trial to believing it can help patients who are having difficulty with compliance and want to avoid the Abilify injections recommended for patients who skip pills.

Our lives have been changed by the technology used for our games and entertainment, driving, shopping, sleeping and many other common daily activities. It remains to be seen whether technology is advancing because it can, or because it improves lives, or both. Certainly the digitization of pills will be subject to further scrutiny.

Discussion Questions

  • Beyond the patients’ opinions, what could be some of the positive, or negative, effects of taking a digital pill?
  • Will digital pills and the platforms they utilize become targets for hackers?


  • Regimen
  • Chronic
  • Compliance