Don’t read the next line if you’d rather not know the estimate for how many life-threatening errors occur in medical prescriptions each year.

Around 80,000,000. Yes, that’s an estimate of 80 million. In the United States alone.

How does it happen?

Each year, doctors in the United States write about 4 billion prescriptions for medications, from common antibiotics for sinus infections, to long-term treatments like insulin, to anesthetics for emergency surgeries. Each prescription needs to be tailored to the requirements of the individual patient, taking into consideration age, weight, allergies, other current medications and additional factors; making what seems like a simple task into a multi-faceted decision-making process.

In fact, the World Health Organization’s recommended procedures for issuing prescriptions instruct doctors to follow six steps, including performing an initial evaluation of the patient, selecting an appropriate drug, and monitoring the effects of that drug. The WHO also recommends using a computerized system to write prescriptions; as many of these systems include built-in software designed to detect mistakes.

But despite these recommended procedures and computerized systems, 2% of prescriptions have errors that are life-threatening, from prescribing the wrong dosage to the wrong drug, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.  Each year, thousands of people die from such medication errors and millions more are injured. In addition to the loss of life, prescription errors carry direct and indirect financial costs of $21 billion annually in the United States alone. This financial waste and loss of life puts much stress on an already-overburdened medical sector.

Wait, who’s fixing this?

There are some existing solutions to prevent prescription errors, but they are not comprehensive enough, and thus not very effective. 

  • Lexicomp offers searchable databases about dosage, drug interaction and other aspects of prescription medication, which medical professionals can consult when treating patients. 
  • First Databank offers similar information. 

Both of these can be embedded into electronic medical records systems within hospitals and other health care facilities and issue alerts when they detect a drug interaction or other prescription error.  But such systems require frequent updating, and issue so many false alarms that doctors feel they cannot rely on them. 

In fact, physicians override 96% of the medication errors detected by these systems.

So what is there to do?

MedAware is an Israel-based startup that has developed a superior solution, detecting prescriptions errors in real time with an accuracy rate of more than 90%.  MedAware’s system harnesses information from thousands of physicians treating millions of patients, and creates a mathematical model for each drug, describing which patients are likely and unlikely to be prescribed that drug.

How does it work?

When a physician enters a prescription, MedAware compares the prescription model with the patient’s profile in real-time.  The system then alerts the doctor of any mismatches. The company’s self-learning system has proven to dramatically reduce healthcare costs while improving patient safety by transforming real physician practice data into actionable clinical knowledge.

The system catches more types of errors– including the accidental prescription of drugs with similar names–than the other tools mentioned can detect.  Because MedAware’s system is constantly updated in real-time, there are far fewer false alarms.  And, unlike those existing systems, MedAware’s solution is very low maintenance, without the need for manual updates or manual entry of information.

MedAware, which is already in use in some medical facilities, has already proven an effective tool for both saving lives and reducing wasteful medical spending.  MedAware’s vision is to eventually build a suite of decision support products that provide clinical insight into personalized treatment and outcome assessment. This prescription error alert solution is the first product in this line; additional systems could analyze other forms of care, such as blood transfusions, surgical procedures and physical therapy.

By creating solutions to prevent thousands of tragic and costly prescription errors, MedAware is paving the way for safer, more effective and less expensive medical care.

Feel free to exhale now.      

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