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Professor Robert Field Discusses Digital Pill and Related Privacy Issues on Wharton Business Radio

Professor Robert Field

December 05, 2017

The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of digital pills that track a patient’s ingestion of medication offers tremendous opportunities as well as threats to privacy, Professor Robert Field said during an interview on Wharton Business Radio.  

By allowing the monitoring of how much prescribed medicine a patient has been ingested, digital pills have tremendous potential to help individual patients and health care professionals, Field said, joining Penn Medicine Professor Holly Fernandez Lynch and host Dan Loney on the Dec. 1 program.

“As long as the information is between the patient and physician, it’s got a lot of great potential,” Field said. “But think of all the third parties who could get access either properly or improperly. I’m thinking not just of government agencies and public health officials but for instance also employers who want to sure their workers are taking their drugs and insurance companies that want to make sure you’re compliant.”

Field noted that the digital pills – approved at this point just for the anti-psychotic medication Abilify – require patients to wear a patch that interacts with an app in the patient's home and the doctor's office, which opens the monitoring loop to vulnerabilities.

“There are a lot of links in the chain that could get severed,” Field said.

Yet, Field said the innovation may make it possible to get better information than ever before on drug effectiveness.

“It has very exciting potential, not only at the individual level but at the public health level,” he said. “If we want to see whether a drug is effective, we can see if people are taking it.”

While the FDA has yet to OK ingestion tracking for any other drugs, Field said, more medications will likely be added if the approval allows for declining costs and improved data.

“Health care like much of our economy is rapidly becoming an information-based industry,” he said. “It’s less and less what the people do and the equipment they use than it is the information and how we manipulate that. This is adding a whole lot of new data to the mix.”