Written by Kevin Storr
Graduate students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are among the first in the nation to use a newly released mobile app that identifies medication and recognizes dangerous interactions instantly. Rick Kilgore, Ph.D., program director of the UAB Surgical Physician Assistant Program (PA), says the new tool created by MedSnap is vital.
“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 Kilgore, an assistant professor in the UAB School of Health Professions Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences with more than 30 years experience as a physician assistant. “It is critical to know the actual patient-medication history to avoid dangerous interactions; yet there are medical personnel in practice who still rely on the pictures found in the Physician’s Desk Reference or Google to help patients identify unknown drugs. Those are not safe ways to determine what a patient is taking.”
To help eliminate the guesswork, Birmingham-based MedSnap spent the past two years creating MedSnap ID. Simply put, the app captures the image of any number of pills on its Snap Surface and will identify each pill using more than one million images of medication in its database; the clinician then is asked to individually verify the identity of each pill. The app will screen the list of medications for drug interactions or potential medical condition interactions.
Patrick Hymel, M.D., CEO and co-founder of MedSnap, is an emergency medicine physician who has seen patients bring in pills in tackle boxes, Glad bags and brown bags — even an old sock. A Birmingham resident since 2001, Hymel and his team chose UAB because of personal experience and the program’s perennially presence in the U.S News & World Report’s best graduate school rankings.
“Our co-founder Stephen Brossette and our Chief Quality Officer Daisy Wong earned their doctoral degrees in computer science from UAB so we know they have quality students, graduates and faculty,” Hymel said. “Plus, these physician assistant students already are in clinical settings with patients, so why not give them access to the latest innovative advances? MedSnap ID will help their patients today, and their new technological skills will further their careers tomorrow.”
Kilgore says UAB’s program already offers pharmacology-related courses in which students learn the dangers of misidentifying medication and the potential for incorrect medical histories. This fall they will require students to analyze the medicines a patient says they are taking, their medical record and the medication they present in person. MedSnap ID will be used in these scenarios to help students determine the medicines the patient is actually taking.
“This generation embraces technology, and it will be a large part of their medical practice,” Kilgore said. “Our job is to ensure UAB is in the forefront of introducing new technology to students and educating them on appropriate use, which is critical for patient safety.”
MedSnap is based at Innovation Depot, a business incubator operating in partnership with UAB. The company is providing the SPA students free use of MedSnap ID while they attend UAB. MedSnap ID is only available for iPhone 4S or 5 users, but Hymel says they are working to expand available platforms.