Thursday, October 1, 2009

Big Brother Is Watching You Take Your Pills

I'm telling you, folks, there is no way anyone could make this stuff up.

Thanks to my friends on the Healthy Skepticism listserv:

Novartis is implanting a chip in people's shoulders that will call their cell phone if they are late taking their next dose of Diovan for their high blood pressure. So far 20 people have been experimented on and the company is ecstatic that this has improved compliance from 30 to 80 percent.

When I first read this quickly I thought that they had figured out a chip that would measure blood pressure and let you know that your blood pressure was too high. Sadly the chip is not that smart. Novartis puts one chip in your shoulder and a second chip inside each pill (great way to reduce the excessive costs of medicines, guys). The chip in (on?) your shoulder waits to see the other chip go by and if none pass along withion the specified time period, ring goes the phone. This by the way has important health implications. What if your doc has miscalculated your dose and the Diovan is actually making your blood pressure go so low you're about to pass out? The dutiful chips still keep bugging you to take the next pill. Too bad they won't call 911 for you when you're stretched out on the floor.

Now, I freely admit that not taking your pills (compliance, adherence, or the term du jour) is a super big problem in chronic illnsesses like hypertension; and treating hypertension is truly lifesaving. So what's the beef with this really cute little chip, all references to 1984 aside? And assuming both previous and future patients give appropriate informed consent to have the chip implanted?

My main thought is that Diovan is an expensive, on-patent anti-hypertensive, that in the grand scheme of things ought to be a third-line treatment for hypertension at best. So who is implanting chips to remind people to take their generic diuretic; or their generic beta blocker; or their generic ACE inhibitor? Why is the chip only available to remind people to take the drug that most of them have no reason to be on in the first place, were it not for slick marketing?

If the chip were coming from a reasonably unbiased public health source, and aimed solely at reducing morbidity and mortality from hypertension, then we could focus our concerns on issues like privacy and so on. Given that the chip-pushers are motivated by corporate profit much more than by public health, we have other concerns to address first.


Anonymous said...

I would like to see evidence that the pills being prescribed, and for the health indices being managed, actually reduce mortality in real life populations. It is a gravely slippery slope, and one we've already seen in countless examples, where an extreme situation is used to justify increasingly milder cases treated just as aggressively -- with no evidence. The abuse of something like this boggles the mind -- corrupt guidelines written by drug company interests (check), treating increasingly lower indices (check) with more drugs, and labeling patients as "noncompliant" and using that to deny them medical care, treatments and raise their health insurance costs (check). That is a deadly consequence that will put far more people at risk than the few who might be helped.

Anonymous said...

So chips might be good if sponsored by a "unbiased" public health entity (aka governmental agency) but inherently a really bad idea if a profit motivated entity was behind it.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous #2: they are one in the same.

patrons99 said...

Anonymous makes some very good points about your original post. I hope to further convince you, with my comment which follows, that this scenario is even creepier. Talk about a slippery slope! No kidding! We are all in serious trouble.

What about our right to privacy, autonomy, choice, personal control over our bodies? What about the U.S. Constitution? Where are the checks and balances to this outrage? I would urge you to follow these links for even more sinister applications of chip implants than the pill-compliance application:

To quote from the VeriChip press release of September 29, 2009, "Technology behind system expected to inexpensively identify H1N1 virus and identify new strains of viruses and other diseases within minutes".

Does it give you comfort knowing that "a tiny, passive microchip (the nation's first and only microchip cleared for patient identification by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration)" and a "secure, private online database" is the "connection between you and your personal health record"?

Who amongst us really want a computer chip, monitored by either a multinational pharmaceutical company or a "secure, private online database", inserted into their body?

This technology violates multiple fundamental rights as citizens. The courts will have to rule on this matter, and soon. But first, perhaps the court of public opinion should weigh in. We don't have much time.