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Big gulp: Camera in pill form arrives at Auburn hospital

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It was a rather large pill to swallow – including a tiny camera – but 71-year-old Loomis resident Barbara Hollis was tough enough to take it. The pill – Hollis’s doctor, gastroenterologist Danny Yen of Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital calls it an endo capsule – is about the size of some of the larger vitamins on the market. Working its way down the esophagus into the stomach, the endo capsule reaches the small intestine and – snapping two digital photos a second – transmits images of the digestive system to a receiver worn by the patient. Hollis had swallowed the pill early in the morning and by shortly after 3 p.m. had several thousands photos ready for Yen to analyze and hopefully help with his diagnosis to determine the cause of digestive disorders the grandmother of 13 has been experiencing. For Hollis, the procedure – which doesn’t replace a colonoscopy or other tests but adds a more comprehensive diagnosis – was a snap. “I wasn’t scared and I didn’t feel anything,” Hollis said. For Yen, the endo capsule – approved in 2001 by the FDA but only available to doctors and patients at the North Auburn hospital since November – provides a more comprehensive picture through direct visualization of the hard-to-reach-and-hard-to-read small intestine. “This gives us greater ability to detect abnormalities within,” Yen said. “It’s a tool that adds to our diagnostic capabilities in order to provide a comprehensive and advanced service for our patients.” Yen received training with endoscope capsules as a medical student and said doctors have seen costs go down and quality rising since 2001. A capsule now costs a hospital about $300 to $400, he said. The key purpose of the endo capsule is to find bleeding in the small intestine. Patients have already undergone several tests by the time they swallow a capsule. “Because the small intestine is the longest portion of the gastro-intestinal tract and narrower than the large intestine, it can be difficult to find the source of symptoms with other diagnostic procedures that are used to visualize and evaluate the digestive system,” Yen said. After the endo capsule exam, Hollis returned the receiver she had worn to capture the wirelessly transmitted images from the pill camera. Medical staff downloaded the images to a computer and reviewed them for abnormalities or potential sources of bleeding. The pill itself is eventually excreted and – its useful life over – ends up in a landfill. Or perhaps a souvenir to remind a patient of one of the advances in 21st century medicine.