Can you tell these pills apart? A new phone app can
Patrick Hymel threw a random handful of pills on the tray, held his iPhone over it and snapped.
In about 15 seconds, photos and names of the 12 assorted pills appeared on the iPhone.
Another click and the phone detailed drug interactions and more.
This demonstration in Hymel’s office at the downtown Birmingham business incubator Innovation Depot is of a new mobile app — the MedSnap ID — being marketed to hospitals, doctors, nurses, home health care agencies and pharmacies.
When according to one study more than half of medication histories taken in the hospital have at least one error, Hymel said his mobile app can save money, and lives.
“The challenge is a lot of patients are on lots of medications — 10 or 15 per day — is not uncommon,” Hymel said
What happens when they get them mixed up? Take the wrong dosage? Take a dangerous combination?
As a former emergency medicine doctor, Hymel used to see patients coming in sick with pills in their pockets, in plastic bags, in unmarked pill bottles — even in a sock.
“There are lots of ways things that can go wrong,” he said.
In fact, Hymel experienced it first-hand with his grandfather who was taking about a dozen pills, including one that was treating his prostate cancer. Hymel said his grandfather quit taking that pill and no one – not family members or medical staff — picked up on that for many weeks.
“I started looking at how to address this,” from that experience, Hymel said.
“I had an iPhone 4 at the time and started wondering what if we take pictures of what (pills) people are actually taking,” he said.
Patrick Hymel explains how the MedSnap mobile app works to identify pills.
A brainstorming session over a lunch in 2011 and a napkin full of scribblings later, he and business partner, Stephen Brossette created MedSnap and the response has been great, Hymel said.
Cullman Regional Medical Center has recently adopted the technology for use in its pharmacy and home health services with plans to later incorporate into the emergency department, the hospital said in a statement.
“Medication safety is very high on our list of patient safety initiatives,” said Jim Weidner, president and CEO, Cullman Regional Medical Center. “Outpatient medication issues drive lengths of stay and readmissions and in our senior population can determine their ability to remain independent.”
Medication issues are the top cause of readmissions, which hospitals are under pressure to reduce or be fined by the federal government.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham is using the mobile app in a graduate program as a teaching tool.
“We find that the medicine a patient says they are taking, compared with their medical charts and the medicine they bring to the clinic often is inconsistent,” said Rick Kilgore, program director of the UAB Surgical Physician Assistant Program (SPA)
MedSnap can differentiate between 3,500 pills — that’s how many it has in its database. For perspective, UAB stocks about 800 pills.
The computer vision technology identifies the pills by recognizing the imprints — names, letters, logos — on each pill and also by color and size.
The technology can tell the difference between 244,000 shades of color.
This precision comes in handy in cases such as the 7.5 milligram doses of Olanapine and Meloxicam, which are nearly identical looking round white pills with the number 7.5 on it.
But Olanapine is an anti-psychotic to treat mental disorders and Meloxicam is an anti-inflammatory used for arthritis. The pills imprints is ever so slightly different and one pill is slightly larger, something easily picked up by the MedSnap app.
“We measure pills within one-tenth of a millimeter,” he said.
In another example, pointed out by MedSnap, the generic version of the antidepressant Prozac comes in a very similar blue capsule as the stimulant Vyvanse, used to treat ADHD.
The foremost objective of MedSnap is to improve patient safety and with that comes financial savings, Hymel said. More than $200 billion is wasted each year in the U.S. due to poor medication management, according to a recent report from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
While targeted strictly for professional use right now, MedSnap may sometime in the future make an application for personal home use so that a caretaking son or daughter, for example, might be able to quickly identify that assortment of pills that sitting on the nightstand next to an ailing parent’s bedside.