Managing Medications Accurately

Developing healthcare technology to keep patients safe and costs down

By Ju Long

In the U.S., medication errors amount to more than $20 million in unnecessary medical spending each year. Beyond the financial costs, such errors have serious health costs as well, harming an estimated 1.3 million Americans and causing about 7,000 deaths annually. Dr. Ju Long, interim chair and associate professor of Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods, has developed an app aiming to reduce these errors.
Doctors are experts, but they aren't all-knowing. Because patients may have multiple medications prescribed by dif­ferent specialists and may also be taking over-the-counter drugs, an individual doctor doesn't necessarily see the whole picture. That's why medication reconcil­iation - maintaining an accurate list of a patient's medications and dosages - is so vital. These up-to-date records connect the dots to keep all healthcare providers on the same page as their patient.
Currently, medication reconciliation is done by a nurse or pharmacist who talks with patients before they see their doctor. However, this requires dedicated staff time - already at a premium - and special
training, both of which are expensive.
Long's app seeks to automate this process. In the waiting room, a patient uses a tablet populated with data from their electronic medical records to review their medica­tions and make any necessary changes. Then, patient and doctor review this infor­mation together during the exam.
Long tested her app in an Austin clinic, where patients responded favorably. "They can use the app just fine and appreciate the fact that they can go through their medica­tions on their own pace - not being rushed by a nurse," says Long.
This interdisciplinary research combines Long's passions and skills. During field study in Detroit on her master's degree in social work, she was a firsthand witness to America's healthcare disparities. "That was when I knew that I wanted to make an impact in healthcare," she says. "I also came to understand that business and technology could make far more societal impact than traditional government or charity programs."