Technology Corner: May the Phorce Be with You

In our last column from 2017, “The Quantified Baby,” we indirectly highlighted how the consumer electronics market can become a go-to source for health-related technology. This wasn’t always the case. Two decades ago, even the most advanced mobile phone was simply that: a phone. However, with the introduction of the first personal digital assistants, innovators with a predilection for all things health related began exploring the use of these devices as tools for health and wellness. We have enjoyed benefiting from the nearly two decades of advancements that have brought us the modern smartphone — whichever flavor you prefer — as well as the myriad of health and wellness uses for these valuable tools.

In a not necessarily similar timeline, we have enjoyed the Star Wars film trilogies, dating back to A New Hope in May 1977. Like us, you may have been less than blown away with some of the movies in the prequel trilogy. However, the sequel trilogy has been widely acclaimed as living up to, and in many cases, exceeding expectations set by the original trilogy. In a matter of pure happenstance, Brent’s family found themselves at Disney’s Hollywood Studios amusement park in Florida this past December 15. In any normal year, this would have been a slow day at the park, as most children are still in school. However, this was not an ordinary day. This was the release day for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as was very apparent by the crowd in the park.

Dressed in our best Star Wars gear — including matching Princess Leia hair buns for Brent’s wife Georgia and daughter Grace — they joined the crowd and reveled in the energy and excitement of the release of The Last Jedi. As the title suggests, the eighth installment in this series focuses on the Jedi. For those who are not Star Wars fans, think of Jedi as members of an elite group of warriors who fight for justice and peace, often through nonviolent means whenever possible. Jedi have supernatural powers that allow them to control physical objects, and in some cases, read others’ minds.

Remarkably, Star Wars continues to remain an extremely popular component of pop culture, even though it has been 40 years since the first movie was released. In today’s culture, the label “Jedi” is given to individuals by their friends as an indicator of extreme, almost otherworldly abilities in virtually any activity. Childcare professionals, caregivers, and parents can demonstrate Jedi skills by their ability to quiet upset children or to get them to go to sleep. Information technology professionals exhibit Jedi skills when they solve a complex computer problem. One could confidently argue that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians exhibit Jedi skills in their daily efforts to solve PBM (pharmacy benefit manager) and insurance coverage issues. Maybe you have a Jedi shirt that you wear like a superhero under your clothes?

The challenge ComputerTalk readers face every day is the scope of challenges present in the pharmacy. Readers can rattle off the challenges: patient care issues, information technology, insurance, contracts — and the list goes on. Adding to the difficulties is the reality that some challenges often conflict with each other. Patients stand in front of you across the counter with questions pertaining to their medications, while the phone rings with calls from a prescriber and you are on hold (or is it, “ignore”) with a payer. Prioritization in addressing the challenges becomes a critical skill that pharmacists must master to become a Jedi.

Pharmacists can play an important role in supporting patients’ health behaviors, including medication adherence. Adherence is even more critical to patients, as the individuals receiving treatment. Pharmacists can impact adherence through simplification of dosing regimens, medication synchronization, patient education that leads to heightened appreciation of the need for medications, and numerous other approaches. However, patients (sometimes with the help of caregivers) are ultimately responsible for medication-taking behaviors. They must master these behaviors to become a Jedi.

Digital Medicine

Of note, the FDA recently approved the first-of-its-kind digital medicine device that we believe has the potential to bring Jedi-like capabilities
to tracking medication adherence. Proteus produces the technology, which is a sensor embedded in individual oral medication doses. The tracking technology has been approved for several years, but the recent approval marks the first time a medicine (aripiprazole, in this case) has been approved that also includes this type of digital technology.

When the sensor comes into contact with stomach fluid, a signal is sent to a patch that the patient wears. The patch then sends a date and time stamp to an app on the patient’s smartphone, which can share the information with the patient’s providers and authorized family members (or caregivers). This is anticipated to create a near-real-time record of medication administration. The app can also be a source of information for the patient in terms of medication-taking history, which can be especially important for patients who have trouble remembering if they took their medication (versus those who can’t remember to take their medication).

As often is the case with technological advancements, we believe the primary challenge may not be the technical capabilities of the digital medicine. The primary challenge may be skepticism among potential patients. Recall that aripiprazole is used to treat schizophrenia, and that patients with schizophrenia experience paranoia, even as it relates to the caregivers monitoring their activity. So imagine the thoughts that may cross a potential patient’s mind about having a device in the body that communicates a record of their behavior to others.

We are excited about the potential adherence-monitoring capabilities of this digital medicine technology. We also anticipate that ComputerTalk readers will hear more news about it and similar technologies in the coming months. As a potential source of information previously almost impossible to gather accurately, this digital medicine technology does offer Jedi-like monitoring capabilities. Pharmacists and other caregivers may need to use their Jedi skills to help patients understand and trust this new technology. We welcome your thoughts. CT