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Needle-Free Flu Shot Gains Traction
For patients who cringe at the mere sight of needles, a new type of flu shot is taking hold in health clinics and pharmacies.

Approved in 2009 by the FDA, PharmaJet’s needle-free injection device directs a pressurized stream of liquid medication that penetrates the skin in less than one third of a second. Patients feel either no pain or “mild pressure or a pinch-like sensation,” PharmaJet says.

It can be used on the arm, abdomen, or thigh, as well as injected into the muscle or subcutaneously. The spring-loaded device requires no outside power source and can be reused thousands of times. Its creators hope these benefits will position the gadget for widespread adoption in developing countries.

The technology is currently being tested in approximately 40 pilot programs in the United States and abroad, according to a CNN report. These include the pharmacy chain The Little Clinic, as well as public health clinics in Los Angeles, California, and São Paulo, Brazil.

A group of county health departments in New Jersey were PharmaJet’s first customers, and so far, they’re satisfied. Since the equipment was purchased and implemented last year, patients have begun asking for the needle-free flu shot, and providers are seeing returns in the form of cost benefits.

“It’s a new technology and it takes a little bit of time,” Herbert Yardley, a health officer at the Department of Environmental and Public Health Services in Sussex County, New Jersey, told CNN. “But I think it’s the wave of the future. It’s the way we want to go.”

Novartis Promises Smarter Pills by 2012
At the Reuters Health Summit in November, Novartis AG announced that it is within 2 years of marketing “smart pills”—tablets capable of recording and transmitting biometric data after a patient has taken them.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company expects to seek European approval for a final product within 18 months, said Trevor Mundel, MD, PhD, global head of development for Novartis. Proteus Biomedical developed the technology, which will first be applied to an existing organ transplant drug to help physicians monitor adherence and customize dosages.

The Proteus smart pill is embedded with an ingestible microchip that is activated by stomach acids. When the pill reaches the patient’s stomach, it transmits data to a patch applied to the skin. The patch can then send the information to physicians or caregivers via e-mail or text message.

If successful, the pills will give health care professionals an unprecedented amount of data on patients’ medication habits. They could also monitor how well a drug is working and whether it needs adjusting. Despite some concerns about privacy, the idea has been well received by regulators, Dr. Mundel said.

Similar technology is currently being developed by other drug makers, but Novartis hopes to be among the first to bring the smart pill to market and expand its application to more types of medication.

NIH Goes Full Throttle With Mobile Health
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are zeroing in on the intersection between mobile phones and public health.

The marriage of consumer technology with health care applications—also called mHealth—has enormous potential to engage individuals in managing their health. NIH officials say the side effects could be improved clinical outcomes and reduced health care costs.

In his keynote speech at the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC, NIH director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, called the institute’s commitment to mHealth “really quite wide and deep,” Healthcare IT news reported.

That commitment is evidenced by the 150 grants NIH awarded to mHealth projects in 2010. They total over $36 million in funding—more than double the amount awarded in 2008, Dr. Collins noted. The research incorporates a broad spectrum of mobile technologies, from smartphones to GPS devices.

The Summit, sponsored by the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, NIH, and the mHealth Alliance, provided a platform for thought leaders such as Dr. Collins to define the present state and future trajectory of mHealth.

Other keynote speakers included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Todd Park, chief technology officer of the US Department of Health and Human Services. The event drew more than 2400 attendees from 50 countries.

“The people, ideas, and innovations at this year’s mHealth Summit are a testament to the fact that the mHealth moment has arrived, and is moving full-speed ahead,” said David Aylward, executive director of the mHealth Alliance. PT