Prescription drugs mixed inadvertently with over the counter medications can be a lethal cocktail hospitalizing hundreds of thousands of people every year. Now an Israel company has the solution.
Thousands of people die annually from the effects of drug on drug interaction (DDI) – with the elements of different medications people take interacting and combining in negative ways, so that, instead of helping, the meds become ingredients in a lethal cocktail. But now, there’s a new system that has the potential to put an end to DDI complications – a new medication “smart card” developed by Israeli start up RX-DrugOn.
“This has been a long time coming, and I have no doubt many people will benefit from our innovation,” company CEO Yaron Front tells ISRAEL21c. “If the card had been around a few years ago, I would have saved myself a trip to the hospital.”
It was a case of bad DDI that inspired Front, a high-tech entrepreneur, to develop the DrugOnCard – and consumers, as well as pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies, stand to benefit.
Front ended up in hospital after he had a bad interaction between a prescription drug he was taking and an over the counter drug. “There was no one to blame; the doctor, the pharmacist, and the insurance company that provided a list of meds they would pay for were all just doing their job,” says Front. “I was sure that what had happened to me had happened to many others as well.”
Here’s how the DrugOnCard system works: Consumers get the smart card from their pharmacists, and present it each time they buy drugs – both prescription and over the counter.
The same card can be used at any pharmacy where a DrugOnCard reader is installed, so if a consumer buys different meds at different pharmacies, the information gets recorded on the card. It comes pre-installed with (and updated on a regular basis) a database that lists problematic DDIs, based on the drugs the consumer had purchased; if a bad combo is discovered, the system alerts the pharmacist, who can suggest an alternative medication.
The only system offering DDI information
The card – along with a printout of the meds an individual is taking – can be carried in the wallet, so the data is available to medical personnel if the person carrying the DrugOnCard is unable to communicate, whether or not a hospital or medical facility has a DrugOnCard reader.
Believe it or not, says Front, this is the first – and so far only – system that provides comprehensive DDI information for individuals.
“Because of privacy issues, there is no coordinating database between medical care providers and pharmacists, with each other or with others in their field. Many patients have prescriptions from more than one doctor, and buy their meds from different pharmacies. DrugOnCard provides the only current solution to the problem of DDIs,” Front says.
While the card contains a great deal of personal information, Front says that there is no chance the data can be misused – because DrugOnCard contains no information that could identify its carrier.
“All it has is the carrier’s med use history,” says Front. “That information is useful to the pharmacist, or to a big pharma company, only in the aggregate, allowing them to determine what products people are using. But since the only information that gets recorded are the purchases a cardholder makes, without any other identifying data, there’s no chance the information could be used in a problematic way. And if the card is lost or stolen, it won’t do the finder any good without a DrugOnCard cardreader,” Front says.
“The only way to identify a specific user is when he or she hands the card to the druggist or doctor personally.”
A medical safety net
While the card provides consumers with a med “safety net,” ensuring they don’t fall victim to misdiagnosed meds, DrugOnCard has something for pharmacists, as well as for pharmaceutical companies, helping them see what items and products consumers are buying.
“The system allows pharmacists to parse statistics on inventory and item popularity, making it easier for them to control inventory,” says Front.
Drug companies will also benefit, he adds. “Pharmaceutical companies will be able to better control their advertising budgets with DrugOnCard, because they’ll be able to target consumers who would be interested in their product.”
The pharmaceutical industry spends over $5 billion a year on drug ads annually, in North America alone; they’re the ones buying most of the glossy full-page ads in the national magazines, hoping to attract the attention of the readers who need their product.
“With DrugOnCard, pharma companies can run specials with pharmacies, offering discounts to users whose cards indicate they use a competing product, for example. With the cost of drugs so high today, many consumers are happy to discuss an alternative product with their doctor, and DrugOnCard allows the makers of those alternative products to reach out directly to consumers,” says Front.
No privacy issues are involved, he asserts. “It’s like when users get a pop-up when they surf to an internet site; anyone who surfs to the site gets the offer. In the same way, everyone taking medication X gets an offer for medication Y automatically.”
Pilot program underway in the US
It’s only in the United States and New Zealand that pharma companies can advertise prescription drugs, but the DrugOnCard system could be used anywhere, since it’s more like an opt-in loyalty card program than an advertising mechanism.
Front sees a big future for DrugOnCard, in the wake of the medical industry reforms being touted by President Barack Obama. “Among the things Obama has been calling for is a conversion to medical electronic records, and that’s exactly what DrugOnCard is for meds. The application could be easily converted to record other kinds of information as well. And we’ve already resolved the thorniest problem – that of privacy,” says Front.
RX-DrugOn is a privately held company founded in Kiryat Motzkin in 2008. Along with Front, the company’s top personnel include individuals from the pharmaceutical and medical professions.
The first DrugOnCard readers were installed in a pilot program in the US last January, and the program, which now includes several dozen pharmacies, is going well. The company is actively seeking partners in the medical and pharmaceutical industry, as well as investors, Front says.
“Adverse drug-drug interactions are responsible for over 100,000 hospitalizations annually in the US,” he says. “RxDrugOn offers consumers relevant and useful information about the medications they are taking.”