Medicine of the future arrives on High Street as pharmacy offers pills with edible microchips to help doctors monitor patients' health
An edible microchip will be included with each group of a patient's pills
A patch on the skin will pick up a signal once it's swallowed and relay this to a smart phone
The system will be offered to patients taking medication for heart conditions and diabetes

'Intelligent' pills that will help patients and their doctors to keep track of their medication regimes, are to go on sale in the UK.

Lloyds Pharmacy has signed a deal with the U.S company Proteus Biomedical to sell medication tagged with edible sensors that are the size of a grain of sand.

The shoulder patch logs what time the pills reach the patient's stomach. This is sent via blue-tooth to their smartphone

Innovation: The shoulder patch logs what time the pills reach the patient's stomach. This is sent via blue-tooth to their smartphone

The new Helius packs will contain
blister packs of each of the customer's medications along with a red
pill with an embedded sensor. These will include drugs for chronic heart
conditions and diabetes.

The sensor, which is the size of a grain of sand, contains two materials 'found in the food chain' that provide power for around five minutes when they come into contact with stomach fluids.

'It then varies the current flow between the two materials to generate a digital signal which can be detected,' said co-inventor Mark Zdeblick.

The sensor, which contains no battery, antenna or radio, creates a unique digital signature that is picked up and recorded by a patch attached to the patient's shoulder.

The patch, which also monitors bodily functions such as heart rate and temperature, sends this encrypted information to blue-tooth enabled smartphones or computers owned by the patient and their doctors and carers.

The Helius system could prove useful for patients on complex medication regimes. However, it will only be offered privately

The Helius system could prove useful for patients on complex medication regimes. However, it will only be offered privately

In this way, both patients and their doctors can work out exactly which pills have been taken. Medics can also interpret whether the patient is sleeping well, or taking enough exercise using the information transmitted from the patch.

The Helius system, which will be offered privately for around 50 a month from September, could help chronically ill patients who depend on regular medicine.

A Proteus spokesman said: 'Helius has been designed to provide assurance and peace of mind to individuals struggling with complex medication regimens and health issues, and to connect these individuals to the family, friends and professionals caring for them.'

However, some patients may be reluctant to offer up such private medical data non-verbally.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: 'This technology has massive potential benefits for healthcare, but it should not be adopted at the expense of patient privacy.

'Patients taking this medication, and their families, should not only be aware that they are doing so, but also be able to see a full breakdown of what data is captured and who it is accessed by.

'At a time when the NHS is already struggling to protect the personal information it holds, any expansion in patient monitoring and data recording must be done with care to protect privacy and confidentiality.'

The World Health organisation estimates that up to 50 per cent of patients do not take their medicines correctly.

Unused prescription medicine is estimated to cost the NHS in the UK around 396million a year.

Steve Gray, Lloydspharmacy Healthcare Services Director, said: 'The Helius system is an exciting development which takes our current medication adherence offering to a whole new level.

'There is a huge problem with medicines not being taken correctly.

'Anyone taking several medications knows how easy it can be to lose track of whether you've taken the correct tablets that day.

'Add to that complex health issues and families caring for loved ones who may not live with them and you can appreciate the benefits of an information service that helps patients get the most from their treatments and for families to help them remain well.'

Mr Gray said while patients will initially pay for the package, several NHS bodies have expressed interest in using the service.

Proteus Biomedical from Proteus Biomedical on Vimeo.