4 ways IT can keep medications straight
On one level, taking a pill is one of the simplest forms of healthcare, and it's safe to say that across the country people pop pills by the millions every day.
At the same time, medication errors are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of patients annually, and the odds are many other patients end up taking the wrong medicine with more minor consequences.
It was an error of that sort which led to the creation of MedSnap, a Birmingham, Ala.-based company that is focused on using IT to improve medication safety. According to MedSnap's co-founder and CEO, Patrick Hymel, MD, about two-and-a-half years ago his grandfather was taking the wrong medicine to treat his prostate cancer – and it was six weeks before the error was discovered.
"That led me to think hard about how I could have captured the error more easily," said Hymel.
He also began to think about the difficulty providers have determining accurate medication histories, and after having lunch with a colleague who related a similar experience, MedSnap was born.
"We decided to build a technology that would allow any clinician to quickly diagnose any prescription errors," said Hymel. MedSnap's mission has since grown, however, and it now produces a suite of apps that enable clinicians to identify and access information on a growing range of prescription medications, as well as help patients and caregivers manage medication regimens.
As Hymel sees it, there are four current and potential benefits database-oriented apps can bring to medication tracking and safety:
- Pre-op screening. According to Hymel, the average Medicare patient sees seven different providers, so keeping a medication history accurate and up-to-date is a challenge even under normal circumstances. Add in the importance of making sure a patient's meds are in order prior to surgery, and a digital record that can be checked against a hospital's supply becomes a very handy tool.
- Home healthcare recording. Whether in post-op or any number of other situations, one of the key tasks of home healthcare groups is to review patients' medication regimens, often at every visit. A digital record enables them to ensure that a patient's listing is accurate and up-to-date, even after subsequent visits to the doctor.
- Community pharmacist tracking. Sounding a theme one hears often when the subject of healthcare changes comes up, Hymel observed that, "pharmacists want to become more consultative." As with home health professionals, having access to a patient's digital medication record will enable pharmacists both to track a patient's regimen more accurately, and to more consistently match the patient's needs with the pharmacy's supply.
- Supply chain verification. The goal of MedSnap's technology, Hymel said, "is to measure the size, shape, color and imprint of every brand of pill as near to manufacturing variance as we can." With an ever-expanding database of that level of precision, MedSnap has the capacity to detect counterfeit pills, as well as enable hospitals and other providers to ensure the integrity of their own medication supply.
Despite all the advances in prescription accuracy in recent years, Hymel noted that "there's still at least a 2 percent chance you'll come home from the wrong pharmacy with the wrong medicine."
That doesn't sound like much – until you remember that 2 percent of several million is really quite a lot.