Pills that talk back

To 70 million Americans with intestinal problems, swallowing the RFID SmartPill could bring relief.

By Marie Cannizzaro, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Forget Rolaids. For the 70 million Americans who suffer from gastrointestinal diseases -- and rack up $100 billion in medical costs each year -- a better solution is at hand: the SmartPill.

This $500 device doesn't deliver drugs; rather, it provides information about acidity, pressure, temperature, and digestive activity from inside your intestines. The data is transmitted wirelessly via RFID to a receiver worn around the patient's neck or waist; from there it can be downloaded to a doctor's laptop.

That may sound like overkill, but compare it with other diagnostic systems for GI diseases, such as feeding patients radioactive meals and sticking tubes down their throats for measurements. "Many people just suffer in silence instead," says David Barthel, SmartPill's president and CEO.

The complete SmartPill GI Monitoring System -- including laptop, software, docking station, data receiver, activation device, and 10 of the pills -- runs about $20,000. The company has sold a couple dozen systems since it began in December and expects to ring up $11 million in sales this year and next.

Barthel is expanding into new markets too, including veterinary researchers and pharmaceutical companies interested in using the product in drug trials. "There will be many uses for this technology," says Farid Namin, a gastroenterologist in Independence, Mo. "But just using it for GI issues will completely change the doctor-patient dynamic."

Thriving in this business, apparently, takes guts.


GI diseases affect 70 million Americans every year. Here's a sample of the leading culprits.

Irritable bowel syndrome*: 15.0 million diagnosed

Dyspepsia: 5.8 million diagnosed

Peptic ulcer disease: 4.5 million diagnosed

Constipation: 4.4 million diagnosed

Gastroparesis: 3 million diagnosed

Inflammatory bowel disease: 1 million diagnosed

*Generally agreed to be underdiagnosed.

Sources: Citi Global Healthcare; National Institutes of Health

Estimated amount spent in medical costs: $100 billion Top of page

To send a letter to the editor about this story, click here.