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Pharmacists should think creatively about how technology can improve healthcare, says Aman Birdi

Earlier this year, one of my patients, let’s call her Mrs D, was brought into the pharmacy by a passing gentleman. She didn’t know where she was nor who we – her pharmacy team – were, and she was feeling shaky, tired and confused.

Knowing she was a type 1 diabetic who uses insulin pens, it was clear to us that she was suffering from a hypoglycaemic attack. Had we not acted quickly in calling an ambulance and providing a suitable sugar source, those may have been her last steps.

Upon doing some research, I found that not only Mrs D, but approximately 90% of the millions of patients worldwide who receive insulin, have experienced hypoglycaemic episodes. Evidence has shown the main reason for this is down to incorrect administration.

There is clearly a problem here that needs addressing. A possible solution touted by researchers is to consistently educate users effectively on correct insulin injection technique. However, with budget cuts to the NHS, and time being of the essence to healthcare professionals, achieving this is a difficult task.

The question I’m therefore posing is whether technology, and specifically the smartphone, can be utilised here?

Half of people in the UK own a smartphone, with the average user checking their phone every three to five minutes. Having looked at the market, which includes apps such as iHealth Gluco-Smart and mySugr Diabetes Diary, I found that there is room for a new smartphone app to provide a much-needed high level of education on type 1 diabetics. This could subsequently translate into achieving effective diabetes management and preventing hypoglycaemic attacks.

Happily, this idea is already on the way in the US. I know of companies who are creating a digital insulin pen that accepts cartridges from all major brands. Patients will be able to insert their cartridge into the pen and inject their insulin. An app will then automatically record the number of units that a person has injected, as well as the time and the date, via a Bluetooth connection to the pen.

The app will also demonstrate correct insulin pen technique to the patient, have a system that allows pharmacists and GPs to monitor their patient’s glucose levels and insulin intake, and an emergency contact system. Users can simply elect someone to be contacted automatically if they haven’t injected their insulin or have injected more than they should.

This could provide clear and effective education to users, help to decrease incidences of unexplained hypoglycaemia, remove glycaemic variability and significantly decrease insulin costs. Amazing, right?

I hope from this you can see what I’m getting at here.

Should we as pharmacists, who are in prime position to spot where help is needed, be thinking more about ways in which healthcare can benefit from innovative technology like this? If you have any ideas for how technology can improve healthcare, why not share them?

Aman Birdi is a pharmacist working in London

 

6 Comments

Sharon Stone, Communications

Hang on a minute. Many old folks are diabetics and they can;t even turn the phone on , so App,s got no chance.

What ever happened to stem cell technology???

Aman Birdi, Community pharmacist

I suppose the main benefit to those who "can't even turn the phone on" is that someone can set an app like this up for them and elect someone to be contacted automatically if the patient hasn’t injected their insulin or have injected more than they should. Think that is going to be a huge advantage to them.

Also another way to look at it is that we are going to turn into old folks one day, and we use apps all the time. So apps definitely have a chance for now and in the future. 

FYI a lot of my "old folk" patients use apps - I wouldn't underestimate them.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

This approach would require that the patient both takes an interest in their condition and has a willingness to take responsibility for their own wellbeing - two traits I find sadly lacking in many of my customers. The result of a mollycoddling NHS.

Aman Birdi, Community pharmacist

I see your point. It's difficult to change common perceptions that medication are passive cures to disease, whereas in actual fact they are just supplementary to help manage it. An active input is needed by the patient to really tackle it

Hemant Patel, Community pharmacist

A man this is an excellent example of technology, pharmacist and patient working as a team. Pharmacy staff can also help with apps and learning. The meaning of access is changing as smartphone and super-smartphones which will be linked to wearables and cloud transform personal care. Any doc claiming to be THE Forward View and fails to consider this is missing a huge opportunity and lopsided if not blind to opportunities.

Valentine Trodd, Community pharmacist

"Pharmacy staff can also help with apps and learning."

Of course we can - as long as the pharmacy is paid to provide this service and the pharmacist is allocated time to do so. Goes back to what you were talking about in your other/alternative sources of income article, doesn't it? Although, in the current climate good luck with getting funding for this.

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