Just swallow this pill – and doctors will be able to see your insides

�Not very many people have been told to swallow a television studio – but a pioneering new treatment at the Royal Free is asking patients do just that.

The size of a small lozenge, PillCam allows the insides of a patient to be filmed from within without the complex procedure of inserting an endoscope.

The bowel is a notoriously hard place to get a good look at – the small intestine alone is about 17ft long – and before PillCam’s “mini television studio” it was impossible to see inside certain parts of the digestive tract for diagnosis.

It consists of a powerful, high intensity, low power LED light source, a battery similar to that of a watch, camera and transmitter.

Due to the innovations of the hospital’s professor of gastroenterology Owen Epstein, the Royal Free is among the first hospitals using the device. And it is the only one in the country with extensive experience of all of the three different PillCams available.


The first PillCam was designed to look at the bowel.Two more recent ones capture images of the gullet and the colon. The colon camera’s long battery life means that the transmission can last all the way until the final 5ft of bowel.

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Under normal conditions, a colonoscopy is big procedure carried out under sedation by a highly experienced doctor. PillCam allows trained nurses to administer it and download the results. As PillCam is disposable, it will just disappear down the toilet.

Doctors are freed up to act as advisers, ensuring more in-depth study of the footage during diagnosis.

Prof Epstein added: “One of the best things has been the opportunity to train up two brilliant and experienced endoscopy nurses Linda Jackson and Hansa Palmer who have spent many years in an endoscopy unit.

“They have become expert readers and between them they have more experience using all three pills than anyone in the country – or possibly the world.”

Prof Epstein says that the PillCam represents the ethos of the Royal Free, where he has been happily based for 32 years.

He said: The Royal Free has always been on the forefront of patient care and comfort. It was the first hospital in the country to be completely free. It was the first to accept female medical students and it was the first to have an in- house social worker. This is just another cutting edge innovation in that thread.”

n Prof Epstein will be discussing the revolutionary technology as one of the subjects at the Royal Free’s next Medicine for Members event on Tuesday (August 9) from 6.30pm to 8pm.