Biotech of Tomorrow – Ingestible pills
How can smart pill technology, aka ingestible pills help take care of your loved ones? Lindsay Taylor takes a look into the latest advances in Bio Tech in the care and protection sector.
Imagine you are the main carer for an elderly relative; your mother perhaps. You may recall her as a fierce, independent woman. As she aged, she retained that desire for independence. She lives in her own home, possibly with regular visits from you and other family members to check on her now and again. Imagine now that your mother has diminished mental capacity. She may need assistance to look after her finances, but her drive to live as independent as possible is still strong and she does not feel she requires any further assistance.
Now consider the situation if your mother were on medication, perhaps multiple times of day that had to be taken within a very specific time frame. A good friend of mine is the main carer for her brother who lives alone and she checks the blister packets of medication on a daily basis to ensure that it has been taken. Unfortunately, her brother had taken to hiding or throwing away his medication which often led to hospitalisation.
It is a difficult balance to ensure that your loved ones retain their freedom but at the same time are properly cared for. There is one developing solution for this: smart pill technology, aka ingestible pills.
But how can a pill help?
The current development focus of the smart pill technology considers two main functions:
- wireless patient monitoring – maintaining freedom and independence both in and out of hospitals and
- diagnostic imagining ensuring a detailed analysis that can be reviewed by the patient, family members, carers and medical personal.
One tech development company has already engineered a system comprising of a smartphone, a sensor patch worn on the skin and a pill. The pill contains a microchip and is coated with copper and magnesium in quantities that are no more harmful than those contained in a multivitamin. If medication is not taken, the microchip communicates with the sensor which in turn forwards an alert to a smartphone. In practical terms, if your mother misses vital medication, you can receive an urgent text message which can be acted upon.
This emerging technology has already developed to the point that it is possible to swallow a tiny pill shaped camera as an alternative to having an invasive colonoscopy procedure. Nano-sensors are also being developed with the aim of travelling the bloodstream to identify infection. It is imagined that alerts pertaining to oncoming heart attacks could also be sent direct to the smartphone of the person who took the pill.
Attorneys and deputies have to act in the best interests of the donor/patient. In the future this could mean arranging for additional care support by way of these smart pills, following a prescription from a doctor. Envisioned as part of ongoing treatment, these pills could ensure that the patient is taking the correct pills and dose. As the consequences could be severe, it would not be incomprehensible to imagine an automatic alert being sent to ambulance services as well as family members; ensuring immediate, potentially life saving care is administered such an event occurs.
With any new technology, and particularly where microchips and cameras are being consumed by humans, there are scientific, legal and ethical questions that must be considered. Going forward, donors making a Lasting Power of Attorney would have the option to decide whether they would prefer the use of a smart pill or are vehemently opposed to it under a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney, who can enforce these wishes and who has access to the data collected. Families of patients who have not made a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney may find they need the Court of Protection’s permission prior to such a procedure being agreed.
At the end of it all it could provide you and your loved one with an additional tool to assist in care.
Lindsay Taylor is a solicitor within our Wills, Trusts and Probate department and sits on the Coffin Mew Tech Sector. If you require any assistance in making Lasting Powers of Attorney or health care decisions, please get in touch with our team.