A “digital pill” approved by the Food and Drug Administration could be the start of a new wave of ingestible technology.

The recently approved medication is a version of Otsuka Pharmaceutical’s Abilify–used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression–with a safe-for-consumption electronic sensor inside the pill. When someone takes the pill and it reaches the stomach, the sensor sends an electrical signal through the body to a wearable, bandage-like patch. That patch then sends a wireless message to an app on the patient’s phone, recording that the dose was taken.

“What we’ve done is combined silicon and software and analytics on the backend with a pharmaceutical product,” says George Savage, cofounder and chief medical officer of Proteus Digital Health, the Redwood City, California, company that developed the sensor technology for Otsuka.

The goal is to let patients track their own doses and voluntarily share those records with their doctors–and, if they wish, with their relatives and caretakers. Only about 50% of patients actually take prescriptions as directed, even in developed countries, according to a widely cited estimate. That makes it difficult for doctors to know if patients who aren’t improving need different prescriptions or simply aren’t taking the intended dose.

“For the first time, physicians are going to know objectively whether their patients are taking their medications or not, and it really has the potential to make their care significantly better,” says Robert McQuade, chief strategy officer at Otsuka.

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