A new kind of capsule contains more than just medicine. There's a tiny sensor inside that doctors hope will revolutionize patient care. And one young man with a newly transplanted kidney says it's helping him stay healthy.
Izayah Neil takes a lot of pills. In fact 10, per day.
Keeping track of all that medicine is a necessity when you're living with a transplanted kidney.
"If you don't take them your kidney could get damaged and you could die,” says Izayah.
Izayah was born with a syndrome that ruined his original kidneys. So he takes powerful drugs to prevent his body from rejecting the transplant. Izayah's mom says it's been a tough year since the transplant.
Her son started taking 30 pills a day. Doctors whittled it down, but it's still a lot to remember.
So now, they have some help.
"When he takes his medicines and it’s absorbed into his system, we get a text message I get one on my phone he also gets one on his iPad that says, hey you've taken the medicine," says Tara Chamberlain, Izayah’s mother.
And his doctors get a message too, every time Izayah takes his pills. It's all thanks to tiny sensors added to Izayah’s pills each time his prescriptions are filled
Dr. Dev Desai says the sensors are becoming a vital part of post-transplant care, particularly for teenagers.
"This is cutting edge technology. The number one reason teenagers lose their transplanted organ is from medication non-adherence,” says Dr. Dev Desai, the Chief of Pediatric Transplantation at Children's Medical Center, in Dallas, Texas.
Dr. Desai tracks his patient's progress from his desktop. As the pills Izayah takes dissolve, they send a message to a patch attached to his body.
This device forwards encrypted data to the doctor.
"We’ve been able to catch patient taking the wrong dose, and we're able to correct that right away," says Dr. Desai.
Izayah's mother says the device means fewer visits to the doctor which helps keep her son in class.
But the benefits come with risks.
Dr. Michael Rubin studies medical ethics issues and has some concerns, like what if your insurance company can access your records?
"Could they then say we have records that say you only take your blood pressure medicine half of the time so we're going to put you in a higher risk category and we may charge you a higher premium," asks Dr. Rubin, who is the University of Texas South western’s, Ethics Committee Chair.
But that's a distant concern for Izayah and his mom.
For now this technology is helping them focus on what's most important.
"These medications are what help the kidney stay alive, and it helps him stay alive," says Tara Chamberlain.
Currently, the hospital is fronting the costs for the digital pill program, so there's no charge to families.
There are about 20 children who've received transplanted organs that are using the pill tracking system.