More than 2,000 patients in Scotland have swallowed a tiny camera instead of having colonoscopies: Digital Photography Review


Cameras are used for more than capturing beautiful photos. They’re also used for scientific experiments, and in some cases, even as life-saving tools for doctors. The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland has used a tiny camera housed in a ‘pill’ to screen more than 2,000 patients for bowel cancer. The PillCam is used for what’s called a colon capsule endoscopy (CCE) procedure. It’s been a critical tool to allow bowel diagnostic screening and testing to continue during the ongoing pandemic and is also an easier-to-swallow alternative to a colonoscopy.

PillCam is roughly the size of a large pill. It works in unison with an adjustable belt that patients wear around their waist as the pill works its way through their digestive system. The PillCam captures around 50,000 images of a patient’s bowels at a frame rate of two to six frames per second during its course through the body.

PillCam next to a typical ballpoint pen. Credit: PA

As the PillCam captures images with the aid of its built-in lights, images are transmitted wirelessly to the recording device strapped around the patient’s waist. After the PillCam has completed its journey, the images are downloaded from the recording device and analyzed by medical professionals. Unsurprisingly, the PillCam is a one-time-use device. It’s likely the only time one should flush a camera down the toilet.

‘We are delighted to reach this milestone of 2,000 patients receiving this exciting, fast and effective diagnostic procedure,’ said Professor Angus Watson, consultant colorectal surgeon and clinical lead for colon capsule endoscopy. ‘Traditionally, patients undergoing this test would require sedation and could be quite anxious coming in for their appointment. This test is painless, and although they will still need to undergo the same cleansing preparation beforehand, all they are doing is swallowing the capsule and letting the camera do the work.’

Many people are afraid of receiving colonoscopies and may put off diagnostic screening out of fear. Further, sedation, which always carries some risk, can be riskier for certain patients. Like many forms of cancer, catching colorectal cancer early is critical to successful treatment. The PillCam may very well save lives in general, but especially during the pandemic when the number of traditional colonoscopies that could be performed has been reduced.

‘It’s a lot easier, it’s just swallowing a tablet, the prep is just the same as for a normal colonoscopy and it’s a really good option if you’re worried about the procedure as it’s a lot less invasive,’ said health care support worker Jacqueline Gribbon, who received a CCE procedure in December. ‘It’s painless, it’s not uncomfortable at all, it’s easy to do and as long as you follow your prep work it’s straightforward, I’d definitely recommend it.’

Dr. John Thomson, consultant gastroenterologist and associate clinical director of the Center for Sustainable Delivery, said that the PillCam and CCE has the potential to improve patient experience and health outcomes. ‘This cutting-edge technology will not only help people get the health checks they need but also make it as convenient and as quick as possible.’


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