Hillel's Tech Corner: Getting your Meds Right

Sometimes, all you need to do is stop a mistake from taking place, and you might find yourself saving millions of lives.

MedAware (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When you think of companies that leverage technology to save lives, you might think of advanced cancer research, maybe some breakthrough medical device, or even some fancy computer vision technology that scans medical test results. But sometimes, as Da Vinci so famously said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Sometimes, all you need to do is stop a mistake from taking place, and you might find yourself saving millions of lives.
Here is a statistic to wrap your head around: up to eight million people in the US alone are exposed to serious and preventable prescription errors on an annual basis. Eight million people whose lives are put at risk because of a silly error that could have easily been avoided.
Some more yearly statistics about this phenomenon: 1.5 million preventable medication errors result in injury or death; $21 billion is wasted on medication error health-care spending; 2% of medication errors are potentially lethal; and up to $5.6 million in cost is wasted per US hospital.
Yes, medication error is quite a problem.
MedAware, a company based in Ra’anana, has developed an algorithm that analyzes a prescription along with the patient’s medical profile to see if there is a match or a potential error. Simply put, the company looks at the prescribed medication, then at the patient for whom it was prescribed, and analyzes whether this treatment will be beneficial or harmful for that specific individual.
MedAware’s machine-learning algorithms extract and analyze data gathered from millions of electronic medical records to detect an anomaly in prescription behavior that could be harmful and instantly flag it as a potential danger.
The company has raised $14 million from investors such as OurCrowd, Qure Ventures, BD (Becton, Dickinson & Co.), Gefen Capital, Winton Ventures, Yingcheng City Fubon Technology Co., and several angels. In addition, MedAware received grants from Israel’s Innovation Authority and the BIRD Foundation, as well as from the European Commission as part of its Horizon2020 program.
Some of the truly outrageous cases mentioned on the MedAware website include chemotherapy prescribed to a 28-year-old healthy male, Viagra prescribed to a boy under five years old, and insulin prescribed to a patient without diabetes.
But in addition to those obvious, slip-of-the-mouse-click prescription mistakes, there is also a major issue of medication-patient compatibility that goes beyond a simple drop-down menu slip-up. If patient A is currently taking drug X for one condition, a second physician may prescribe another drug – perfectly safe under normal circumstances – for a second condition, not realizing that those two drugs – lethal if taken together – are being taken by the same person.
Also, we all know about the opioid crisis, and that addicts will go from one physician to another asking for painkillers. Well, MedAware is able to flag such patient prescriptions as well… and that kind of early intervention can really make a difference for this global epidemic.
Of course, in healthcare, the name of the game – once a company finds a potential solution – is proving its safety and effectiveness through clinical studies. MedAware worked with Harvard Medical School to demonstrate the potential value of this novel approach to medication error. The result? I’ll let one of the Harvard researchers, Dr. Ronen Rozenblum, speak for himself (in a formal, written statement):
“MedAware’s medication error detection system appears to have the ability to generate novel alerts that might otherwise be missed with existing clinical decision support systems.”
In other words, it works. But how does MedAware work?
Whenever a doctor enters a new prescription through the system, MedAware’s patent-pending technology performs a real-time assessment of the prescribed drug as it pertains to the specific up-to-date patient profile. It does this by analyzing massive amounts of data and determining “What is normal?”
When it identifies a deviation from the normal treatment spectrum of similar patients, it sends an alert to the physician, highlighting the potentially dangerous mistake. The physician can then respond by accepting or dismissing the alert.
The system also keeps track of all the active medications of the specific patient and provides additional alerts if new incoming data renders one of the active medications hazardous.
Finally, like many machine learning algorithms, MedAware’s system is getting smarter and more sophisticated as it analyzes more data.
Based on the physician’s response to the alert, MedAware automatically fine-tunes the model so that an alert, which has been rejected time after time, will not be repeated, thus avoiding alert fatigue.
Several hospitals are already using MedAware, and I’m told the return-on-investment more than pays for the system itself. But again, it’s not just about the money – MedAware’s approach saves lives.
As I continue to explore the impact of the technology landscape in Israel, I discover more and more companies that are saving lives in the most meaningful ways. This company is no different. While a major part of the problem – prescription “slip-up” error – is a problem that should never have existed, the fact is, it exists. And when you consider the other areas of medication error that are system-based, millions of lives are tragically lost and billions of dollars are thrown into the wind simply because of something that technology can solve.
MedAware is using the most advanced tools the tech world has at its disposal to ensure such errors do not repeat themselves. Ultimately, this company offers those individuals who would have otherwise had a potentially bad day the ability to live a long and healthy life without ever having to know what could have happened, and how close they were to harm’s way.