Smart pills are highly promising, yet controversial, new developments that have many intriguing potential applications for virtually every practicing doctor. They are drugs containing tiny sensors that can monitor a patient's condition internally or target certain treatments.

This monitoring may ultimately happen through telemedicine or other remote means. For example, researchers from Columbia University, led by Dr. Aditya Bardia, report they've developed a smart pill for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer patients that recognizes a specific protein made by cancer cells and delivers medication specifically to combat that protein.

Smart pills are now primarily used in clinical trials, but it's only a matter of time before they have much wider implications for virtually every aspect of healthcare. These pills can potentially be used to determine whether patients with dementia are taking their prescriptions properly and to monitor things such as patient conditions.

For example, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led by Xinyue Liu, are currently developing a smart pill that painlessly expands once swallowed into a spongey ping-pong ball shape in a patient's stomach. The hope is that this pill could remain in the stomach for up to 30 days to help diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions.

For all of the good smart pills can do, there are other issues to consider. As a physician and hospital administrator, you must take in account how smart pills you may wish to research further and potentially implement might:

Impact patient privacy.

Does using a smart pill qualify as surveillance or a monitor of medical adherence? Making sure smart pills improve patients' lives is a chief concern, according to a study from the University of Illinois.

For example, the first smart pill approved by the FDA is currently being used in psychiatric patients who suffer from schizophrenia and who may feel distrust of medical workers because of their condition. Therefore, although a smart pill may allow doctors to be sure these patients are taking their meds, their personal rights must be respected at the same time so treatment is not intrusive.

Change physician-patient interaction.

It's also key to make sure smart pills don't eliminate the important face-to-face physical examination that physicians must use to fully diagnose and treat their patients. Doctors need to see their patients in the flesh to do their jobs correctly. Therefore, patients who received smart pill treatment must be respect the key fact that their meds do not mean they no longer need to see the doctor or report any changing symptoms or concerns they have.

Require more sophisticated technology at your practice or hospital.

Smart pills require extremely specific monitoring. It may be that this can be done via a smartphone or mobile device; it may be that this can be done by reconfiguring existing equipment. Or, it may be that you need to invest considerable and new expense into purchasing and mastering new diagnostic and monitoring systems.

Make sure you keep up with evolving research and smart drug availability to plan these processes well in advance.

Involve staff retraining.

Healthcare workers who administer smart pills and interpret related data will need to be up to speed on applications and changing nuances of the technology on an ongoing basis.

Extensive patient education.

Patients will need to clearly understand how to take their smart pills properly, watch for any interactions or malfunction, and know to report any reactions or issues quickly. The good news: when your staff and patients are fully informed and become comfortable with smart pill technology, it may very well be a highly beneficial game-changer.