• Pharmaceuticals
  • TelePharm helps pharmacists be in two places at once

    Iowa-based TelePharm uses cloud-based mobile apps to connect pharmacists to each other and to patients. It’s raised US$2.5 million to help scale its business.

    TelePharm has several different businesses that enable pharmacists to spread their expertise across multiple pharmacies. This allows local chains to reduce their overheads significantly. One branch under the TelePharm umbrella is TeleCheck. The platform allows remote verification of medications, an important and time-consuming job for pharmacist.

    “They have two different responsibilities: verifying it’s the right drug for that patient and basically making sure the patient will be safe with that drug, and making sure what the technician dispensed was the right drug,” TelePharm CEO Roby Miller said to MobiHealthNew. “What TeleCheck does, is it takes that workflow and puts it in the cloud. So a pharmacist has an image of the drug they’re dispensing, the label on the bottle, and the [prescription] as well. So they can compare those images and make sure the drug is the right prescription for that patient.”

    TeleCounsel is another TelePharm service. This actually allows pharmacists to interact virtually with patients directly.  It’s being used in hospitals which have pharmacists on their staff and supports pharmacists in providing discharge counselling for patients leaving the hospital. The counselling is informal, and talking with patients before they leave hospital leads to better medication adherence. Counselling is often difficult to facilitate because it needs pharmacists to be in many different places simultaneously. TeleCounsel allows pharmacists in one location to talk to many patients and even counsel them when they’re at home.

    TelePharm is relatively new. It was founded in August 2012. Its software is in eight small, regional pharmacy chains in three USA states: Iowa, Illinois, and Texas.

    Similar technology could be used in other parts of the world. It could be especially valuable in countries where there’s a shortage of healthcare professionals. Many African countries could benefit from this or similar technology.

  • Are smart pills a smart option?

    As the size and cost of chip technology continues to fall dozens of companies and research teams are rushing to join the race to make ingestible or implantable chips that will help patients track the condition of their bodies in real time and in a level of detail that we have never seen before. I wrote about one family’s experience of this in Smart pills anybody?

    According to an article in the Washington Post’s Health and Science section, we have only just began to see what this kind of technology is capable of. It says that “Scientists are also working on more advanced prototypes. Nano­sensors, for example, would live in the bloodstream and send messages to smartphones whenever they saw signs of an infection, an impending heart attack or another issue — essentially serving as early-warning beacons for disease. Armies of tiny robots with legs, propellers, cameras and wireless guidance systems are being developed to diagnose diseases, administer drugs in a targeted manner and even perform surgery.”

    While the technology may be within reach, the idea of putting little machines into people makes some of us uncomfortable. It also creates scientific, legal and ethical questions that need answers.

    In 2002, when silicon chips containing their medical records were injected into some Alzheimer’s patients, it was extremely unsettling to privacy advocates. Several states later passed legislation outlawing the forced implantations, and the technology never took off.

    “There’s something very troubling about a chip being placed in a person that they can’t remove,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

    But then again, Eric Topol, Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in La Jolla, Calif, has an equally valid point. “The way a car works is that it has sensors and it tells you what’s wrong. Why not put the same type of technology in the body? It could warn you weeks or months or even years before something happens.”

    Personally, I’m still on the fence about having my every move monitored and swallowing small computer chips. But the fact remains that these devices could potentially save countless lives and billions in unnecessary medical bills.

  • The Pharmacology Science Gateway extends across Africa

    Sharing scarce resources can be beneficial, but it can be hard to assess. Antonio Porchia, the Argentinian poet, summed it up when he said “I know what I have given you … I do not know what you have received.”  The EU-project eI4Africa Pharmacology Science Gateway (PSG) seems clearer on the benefits of sharing.

    Its e-Science platform simplifies collaboration and sharing resources in Africa. The specific goals are to promote and implement African medical science collaboration on biomedical and pharmacological sciences and clinical trials and clinical drug studies to improve healthcare in Africa.

    The platform makes accessible open sources software for study designs, biomedical data processing and facilities for sharing data and discussing scientific and technical topics. It enables stronger north-south and south-south capacity and capability building as African researchers and their international collaborators have easy access and links to people dealing with similar challenges.

    PSG has six main activities:

    Genomics and bioinformatics Bioanalysis, drug analysis and metabolism Pharmacokinetics and pharmacometrics resources Clinical trial sciences Digital library Multimedia contacts and eLearning tools.

    The network includes the African Institute of Biomedical Science & Technology (AIBST), seven universities from six African countries. The PSG website lists them and the e14Africa supporters. They seem to know much about Antonio Porchia’s ideas, like “We become aware of the void as we fill it.”

  • Smart pills anybody?

    We have all heard of smart phones, and smart TVs, but what about smart pills? According to Ariana Eunjung Cha, in Health & Science, many predict that smart pills will be at the forefront of a “revolution in medicine powered by miniature chips, sensors, cameras and robots with the ability to access, analyze and manipulate your body from the inside”

    Mary Ellen Snodgrass, is a 91 year old school teacher who swallows a computer chip everyday. It’s embedded in one of her pills and roughly the size of a grain of sand. When it hits her stomach, it transmits a signal to her tablet computer indicating that she has successfully taken her heart and thyroid medications. The smart pill technology allows her to view an hourly timeline of her day with images of white pills marking the times she ingested a chip.

    Snodgrass’s son, Doug Webb, a 62-year-old electrical engineer, can track his mother’s progress. He recently brought up a web page with his mother’s name with a multitude of charts and numbers. “Sometimes I see very strange numbers and I’ll call her up and say, ‘What’s going on?’ ” he said.

    This was the first smart pill to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Union, in 2012 and 2010, respectively. It is still being tested by a handful of doctors and hospitals, as the company continues to refine its software. Proteus Digital Health, who developed the technology, hopes to make it more widely available within the next few years.

  • Botswana Pharmacist drives simple, powerful innovation

    Health workers have practical, simple ideas for sharing information to improve healthcare. Last week I was in Botswana, participating in eHealth strategy consultations. Sitting next to me was Mmatalenta Maphosa, a pharmacist with the Ministry of Health. She is charming and humble, and plays a key role in expanding eHealth in Botswana. She has been pioneering innovative ways to use everyday ICT to improve drug availability. She is the kind of eHealth innovator steadily transforming the African eHealth landscape through practical innovations.

    Early this year, she established an initiative that enhanced pharmacists’ ability to manage and share pharmaceutical supplies across the country and serve patients better. She set up email support to improve medicine availability and prudent utilization of scarce resources. Previously, if government pharmacies had excess stock, stocks with short expiry or needed something urgently faxes would be sent to other facilities to advertise or request pharmaceutical supplies. The system was slow and did not reach all facilities, so Mrs Maphosa decided to send email lists. “With a simple push of a button, I was able to get in contact with almost all the facilities and cut down their response time dramatically”, she says. As long as someone has an email address at that facility, then information flow is possible.

    Many facilities benefit from the service as information on slow moving or short-dated items can be shared between facilities, allowing stock to be moved to other pharmacies across the country, helping the government save money and helping to meet patients’ needs. Facilities in dire need of essential medicines can simply send email requests and are able to get the much needed supplies from pharmacies that have excess stocks.

    The use of ICT in the healthcare system in Botswana revolutionized their drug redistribution programme. It shows how simple ICT solutions can change healthcare, with benefits for health workers and patients. Mrs Maphosa is an important type of eHealth activist, changing the healthcare environment wherever she can, to make life better for herself, her colleagues and the patients she serves.

    When she starts overseeing optimization of the pharmacy, materials management and billing modules, she plans to report cost savings to the government achieved by using ICT. Currently, each facility has to meet targets of 97% drug availability and <3% expiries on inventory value. Her reports aim to show cost savings by utilizing stocks redeployed from other pharmacies. These would have otherwise expired, so wasted.

    She sees more benefits in using a central government server so that pharmacy personnel throughout the country can log on and check the availability of drugs in other facilities. This way, it may be possible to apply the First to Expire, First to go Out (FEFO) principle nationally.

    Mrs Maphosa is impressed with the way pharmacy personnel in Botswana embraced this idea and believes that this team spirit will take the pharmacy profession to phenomenal levels of growth and development.

  • Internet drug sales suffer

    Modern Healthcare reports that the USA Government Accountability Office has found many problems with rogue Internet pharmacies selling drugs that are counterfeit, improperly labelled or out of date. African countries face these challenges too, and need continued vigilance in supply chain management, prescribing, pricing and procurement.

    Please click here to view the full repor