Fast Company

What Happens When iOS Apps Can Access Health Records

By: Neal Ungerleider

Besides being a way to increase medication adherence, identifying pills on the fly could ensure patients don’t encounter unwanted side effects or somehow ingest the wrong medication. But the data play here is much bigger: Indexing the world’s pill supply.

Optical character recognition and image recognition have spawned all sorts of amazing mobile apps. They can help users identify trees in the forest, identify business cards, and even measure heart rate. Now one new iPhone product, MedSnap ID, could change the way pharmacies are run by allowing for the instant identification of pills via phone camera.

The Data Strategy Behind Mobile Medical Apps

Patrick Hymel, MedSnap’s CEO, told Co.Labs that his company’s product can help reduce the tens of thousands of patient deaths from accidental drug interactions annually, and save pharmacies and health care providers a ton by cutting down on wasted manpower from slower traditional medication history management tools. Users place a set of pills on a special tray or a clear imaging service, take a picture with MedSnap, and the product’s algorithms identify the pills from over 60 images.

Pills are identified through a combination of imprint recognition (the characters or logo on the pill) and visual characteristics (size, color, density, etc.). Apart from the Alabama-based company’s current database–which is primarily centered on drugs available in the United States–users can add to what the company calls the Pill Mapping Project, an effort to “index the world’s prescription drug supply so that it can be ready by a technology using a smart phone in a healthcare, patient, or caregiver environment.”

Hymel said that the app’s time-saving aspects also come from integration with Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Using the MedSnap ID app, clinicians can identify and screen a patient’s entire pill regime in seconds, and then export data to the patient’s EHR. Another selling point for hospitals is that if they purchase the app, they hypothetically will be able to cut down on costly and health-endangering complications from drug interactions.

Importantly, MedSnap ID does not need to photograph one pill at a time. Multiple pills can be screened simultaneously, and the app reports to users the pills’ names, strength, and potential drug-drug or drug-disease interactions. In a good UX move, the developers set the app up to work entirely off a user’s iPhone with no data pulling through 3G, 4G, or Wi-Fi. Besides saving bandwidth, this also allows the app to work in hospitals or retail pharmacies in older buildings with poor reception.

Selling One App To Patient And Provider

Although MedSnap is marketing to retail pharmacies, they do not comprise the entirety of their target market. The app, which is distributed through the App Store and requires the use of the special trays (which are mailed to customers), is being sold to clinicians, health systems, hospitals, clinics, and home health providers as well. As far as professional-grade health apps go, MedSnap ID is relatively cheap: Introductory pricing for an individual license is $70 per year per phone, along with a choice of $30 or $20 imaging surfaces. The company offers a enterprise edition as well, which allows health care professions to associate patients’ electronic medical records with each pill picture via barcode scan, and to import data from MedSnap into individual electronic health records.

Identifying pills in medical settings is important, if only for the fact that an overworked, inattentive, or distracted medical professional can endanger lives by handing the wrong medication to the wrong person. Medical institutions currently use a host of proprietary products to identify pills, many of which require trips back and forth to a computer terminal. Apart from wasting time and money for the health care provider, this also ironically increases chances of a pharmacist being distracted.

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