The first ‘digital pill’ has just been approved — here’s how it could revolutionize health care

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The era of the digital pill is upon us.

Regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just greenlighted a tiny, swallowable sensor called Abilify MyCite that tracks when the patient takes their meds. The tablet is specifically targeted to people with mental health conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and is the first of its kind to get approved.

Digital pills, which typically include a sensor about the size of a grain of sand, can travel safely through the body and communicate with some kind of external device, like an app or a wearable patch.

They aim to solve a big and expensive problem: Patients not taking their meds on time, or at all. That costs taxpayers somewhere in the realm of $100 billion to $289 billion a year in the U.S. alone.

When patients don’t get their scripts filled or finish a dose, their symptoms get worse and they often end up in the hospital. The hope for this new category of tech is to provide health providers with a GPS tracking system of sorts for the human body. By tracking a patient’s compliance with their regimen, rather than relying on what they self-report, they can nudge them if needed.

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