can a phone app really cut down on medication errors

Thanks to the development of highly sophisticated applications over the last several years, many Americans have gone from simply being attached to their smartphones to becoming entirely reliant upon them. In fact, an increasing number of smartphone owners now use their devices to actively manage their health, perhaps using an app to keep track of their calorie consumption, monitor their sleep habits or even look for medical guidance.

Interestingly, a group of medical professionals and healthcare entrepreneurs have now devised an app called MedSnap that is specially designed to help prevent medication errors.

App users simply place pills flat on the surface of a plastic MedSnap tray, open the app and take a picture. The app then processes the pictures, matching the image of each pill against a comprehensive library, before providing the user with a pop-up screen that contains a wealth of information. For example, the pop-up screen provides the name of each medication, their typical uses and, most significantly, possible adverse interactions with the other medications in the picture.

The minds behind MedSnap have envisioned it being used by medical professionals — physicians, nurses, pharmacists, etc. — as a quick and highly accurate way to examine a patient’s prescription drug regimen, identify possible drug errors and ensure that patients are complying with their medication schedules. To date, several health care groups have already begun integrating the app into their electronic medical records.

However, MedSnap’s creators also believe that the product could be used by individual patients — particularly those suffering from multiple chronic conditions — to provide clarification surrounding their prescriptions, verify they are taking their medications correctly, set up reminders, track their history and share information with their treating physicians.

MedSnap’s pill database currently contains over 3,300 prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and it is continuing to grow thanks to a rather novel form of crowdsourcing. Specifically, pharmacists across the county are sending pill images and information to MedSnap, which then has a team of qualified pharmacists and pharmacy students carefully vet the information before adding it their library.

While this technology is truly remarkable and will likely help millions of people, it does raise certain concerns about whether it could somehow interfere with or even act as a substitute for the work of medical professionals. If certain physicians, nurses or pharmacists allow this to happen, it could potentially compromise patient care.

What are your thoughts on the app?

Source: Wired, “Big problem, smart solution: An app that IDs the pills you’re taking,” Liz Stinson, August 8, 2013

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