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New Bedside Scanning Device Ensures Patients Get Correct Pills

System requires no change in hospital’s workflow or logistics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) alumni Gauti Reynisson and Ívar Helgason spent the early 2000s working for companies that implemented medication-safety technologies, such as electronic-prescription and pill-barcoding systems, at hospitals in their native Iceland and other European countries.

But the time spent in hospitals soon opened their eyes to a major health care issue: surprisingly often, patients receive the wrong medications.

Seeking a solution, the duo quit their careers and traveled to MIT for inspiration. There, they devised MedEye, a bedside medication-scanning system that uses computer vision to identify pills and check them against medication records, to ensure that a patient gets the right drug and dosage.

The MedEye device has been in use for 1 year in hospitals in the Netherlands, attracting attention from the medical community. Through this Dutch use, the co-inventors have determined that approximately 10% of MedEye’s scans catch medication errors.

To use the MedEye — a foot-high box in a white housing — a nurse first scans a patient’s wristband, which has a barcode that accesses the patient’s electronic records. The nurse then inserts the assigned pills into the MedEye via a sliding tray. Inside the device, a small camera scans the pills, rapidly identifying them by size, shape, color, and markings. Algorithms distinguish the pills by matching them against a database of nearly all pills in circulation.

The system’s software then cross-references and updates the results in the patient’s records. The results are listed in a simple interface: color-coded boxes show whether pills have been correctly prescribed (green) or are unknown or wrong (red). If a pill isn’t in MedEye’s database — because it’s new, for instance — the system alerts the nurse, who adds the information into the software for next time.

Similar systems exist for catching medication errors. About 15 years ago, some hospitals began using barcode systems, which Reynisson and Helgason helped to install in Dutch and German hospitals. These systems require nurses to use a handheld scanner to scan a patient’s wristband, and then to scan the imprinted barcodes on each pill container.

“But the hurdle has been getting these [systems] installed,” Reynisson says. “Companies sell medications with barcodes; others sell software or barcode scanners. Hospitals have to make all these things work together, and it’s hard for small and medium hospitals to afford. No one is selling turn-key barcode systems.”

That’s where the MedEye device is unique, Helgason says. As an entire system that requires no change in a hospital’s workflow or logistics, “it’s more usable and more accessible in health care facilities.”

Source: MIT; August 28, 2014.

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