Many challenges face ingestible health monitors

Nick Bilton of The New York Times offers a fascinating look at connected, ingestible health gadgets. Proteus Digital Health, for instance, manufacturers a pill that can monitor how a patient’s body is responding to medication as well as tracking movements and rest patterns. As the pill works its way through the patient’s stomach it relays that information to a smartphone app via a patch worn on the body.

Such pills could be used in a wide variety of health scenarios, of course, from tracking things like heartbeats and breathing patterns to monitoring drug and alcohol intake. And as Bilton notes, they could even serve as an authentication token to automatically enter passwords and unlock doors wirelessly.

But while the market for such pills is extremely promising, like many segments in the broad mobile health industry it faces huge challenges. The concept of ingestible computers gives rise to all kinds of privacy concerns, and security on such gadgets must be absolutely airtight. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is still trying to figure out which medical and consumer health apps fall under its purview. Finally, the price tag for such pills is in the range of $45, making them prohibitively expensive (although some users recover them once they’ve completed their journey.) Those problems will all be addressed in time, but they will shackle the market for high-tech health pills for at least the next couple of years.