Use of digital pills to measure opioid ingestion [article]

By | January 25, 2017

Here’s an interesting article from the January 13 issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR): Digital Pills To Measure Opioid Ingestion Patterns In Emergency Department Patients With Acute Fracture Pain: A Pilot Study (1)

A group of researchers out of Boston utilized digital pills (eTectRx, Newbury, FL, USA) to observe the ingestion patterns of oxycodone for patients discharged from the hospital following an acute extremity fracture.

Eighteen patients met inclusion criteria for the study, but only ten consented and were enrolled. Of the ten, eight had usable data. Not exactly a large number, but you gotta’ start somewhere.

Study drug was dispensed in capsule form. The digital pill was compounded with oxycodone tablets using a standard capsule-filling machine by the hospital’s investigational drug services pharmacy. Compounded digital pills were dispensed in blister packages.

When ingested, the gastric chloride ion gradient in the stomach activates the digital pill, transmitting a unique radiofrequency signal that is captured by a hip-worn receiver. The ingestion data is then transmitted to a cloud-based server where it can be viewed and analyzed. Because each digital pill emits a unique frequency, the system can record multiple simultaneous ingestion events, which is very cool.

It turns out that the digital pill did a pretty good job of recording the patient’s ingestion of their pain meds. It wasn’t perfect, and they had some technological issues along the way, but overall it results look promising. Imagine being able to see how your patients are taking their medication in real-time. You could even use the data coming from the digital pill to determine if a patient had ingested too many capsules at once.

The use of digital pills definitely has potential.

From the abstract:

Results: We recruited 10 study participants and recorded 96 ingestion events (87.3%, 96/110 accuracy). Study participants reported being able to operate all aspects of the digital pill system after their training. Two participants stopped using the digital pill, reporting they were in too much pain to focus on the novel technology. The digital pill system detected multiple simultaneous ingestion events by the digital pill system. Participants ingested a mean 8 (SD 5) digital pills during the study period and four participants continued on opioids at the end of the study period. After interacting with the digital pill system in the real world, participants found the system highly acceptable (80%, 8/10) and reported a willingness to continue to use a digital pill to improve medication adherence monitoring (90%, 9/10).

Conclusions: The digital pill is a feasible method to measure real-time opioid ingestion patterns in individuals with acute pain and to develop real-time interventions if opioid abuse is detected. Deploying digital pills is possible through the ED with a short instructional course. Patients who used the digital pill accepted the technology.


  1. Chai, Peter R et al. “Digital Pills To Measure Opioid Ingestion Patterns In Emergency Department Patients With Acute Fracture Pain: A Pilot Study”. Journal of Medical Internet Research1 (2017): e19.

2 thoughts on “Use of digital pills to measure opioid ingestion [article]

  1. Jerry Fahrni Post author

    According to the article: “Other digital pills required the radio frequency emitter to be adhered onto a placebo pill, thus requiring ingestion of the study medication and placebo pill to record an ingestion event. We elected to utilize the eTectRx system because it offered the opportunity to directly measure, rather than infer, medication ingestion.”. Would you care to comment on that? Does Proteus allow users to insert drug directly into the capsule, or pull apart the Proteus capsule and utilize only the RF tag? Thanks.

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