By Sharon Niv, Ph.D.
Medication is a complicated thing. Many drugs need to be taken at specific times or in specific manners (e.g. with food), and decrease in efficacy otherwise. When we find ourselves ill, or perhaps as we age and develop different health conditions, there often emerges a need for multiple medications, which can complicate matters considerably. It is difficult to ensure that patients are consistently complying with their medication, or even that they understand the sometimes complicated directions involved.
Additionally, as highly-skilled, diligently-trained and intelligent as our doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are, they’re human and they make occasional mistakes. Unfortunately, small mistakes can produce considerable damage when it comes to our health. Two incompatible medications taken at once can be profoundly dangerous, even fatal. Although efforts are invested into referencing medications upon prescription, mistakes still occur.
To combat this problem, many are turning to artificial intelligence solutions. Whereas humans can be fallible, especially after 30 hour shifts in the ER, computers are capable of integrating great resources of knowledge, ensuring the compatibility of all medications taken simultaneously. One clever recent solution is MedSnap - an iPhone app that recognizes your medications and identifies potential interactions between them. Even without a present internet connection, Medscap is able to identify the pills in a picture of a group of medications.
An additional benefit of this sort of approach is to build a kind of ‘pill dictionary,’ which is able to identify pills by image and provide information about usage. MedSnap is attempting to build such a library with international reach. Tools such as these are increasingly assuring our safety and the effectiveness of our healthcare.