Administering drugs via mobile messaging

29 January 2019 | Story Nadia Krige. Photo StockSnap, Pixabay. Read time 9 min.

Biomedical engineers from UCT and Osmania University, India, have put their heads together to develop a tool for clinicians to administer medication to their patients remotely using mobile messaging technology.

Despite being one of the most commonplace therapies in hospitals around the world, intravenous administration of drugs remains one of the most admin-intensive.

Currently, a clinician or nurse must be present at a patient’s bedside to administer intravenous medication manually. This can be especially challenging if they have various patients with different needs and medication schedules under their care.

Recognising the laborious and time-consuming nature of this task, Dr Sudesh Sivarasu, associate professor in biomedical engineering at UCT partnered with Dr K Eshwar Chandra Vidya Sagar from the department of biomedical engineering at Osmania University in Hyderabad, India, to develop a device that will automate and streamline the process through activation via mobile messaging.
 

Despite being one of the most commonplace therapies in hospitals around the world, intravenous administration of drugs remains one of the most admin-intensive.

The device – which can access a database of treatment plans for patients of a particular clinician – is programmed to send a mobile message to the clinician every time a patient requires drugs. By responding with an activation code, the clinician can instruct a receiver and automated system to communicate the activation instruction to intravenous pumps. These then administer the drugs, which have been preloaded and kept at a specific temperature.

The system makes use of the internet of things to achieve all of this.

Saving time and money

“This helps to prevent patients from experiencing unnecessary pain and discomfort while waiting for a clinician to come in to authorise and switch on the button,” explains Sivarasu. “It is also far less time-consuming and expensive – if you look at how much a clinician charges per hour.

“For example, if a clinician has to drive for two hours to come and switch on or sign off a medicine, it’s going to be very expensive.”
 

The device – which can access a database of treatment plans for patients of a particular clinician – is programmed to send a mobile message to the clinician every time a patient requires drugs.

Initially, Sivarasu and Sagar set out to create a system that delivers only one major drug per patient. However, as it became clear that there were many cases – especially in intensive care – where patients required a combination of drugs at various times, they realised that there was a need to develop a multi-drug delivery system too.

“Essentially, it is the same as the single-drug delivery system,” Sivarasu explains. “But instead of just one drug, you can deliver three or four different injections at various times and in various combinations.”

The multi-drug delivery system uses the same principle: the clinician will receive a text reminder of a patient’s medication schedule and he’ll respond with an activation code that will set off all the relevant injections in the correct dosages and frequencies.

One system, myriad applications

Both the single- and multi-drug delivery systems were awarded patents by the Indian Patent Office in 2018, drawing a good deal of traction, especially from internet of things companies interested in adapting the technology for different applications.

“I think we can still do a lot of other things with this technology,” says Sivarasu. “But to begin with, it is a very basic drug administration system, and that alone holds a whole lot of opportunity.”
 

The clinician will receive a text reminder of a patient’s medication schedule and he’ll respond with an activation code that will set off all the relevant injections in the correct dosages and frequencies.

In addition to facilitating the automated delivery of intravenous medication, the device can be adapted for data-driven medical homecare, especially for elderly and geriatric people, Sivarasu explains.

He mentions that they are planning to look into a simple potential application, like dosing insulin for diabetics in one major area. For this, Sivarasu explains that a clinician wouldn’t even necessarily have to send a message to initiate the drug administration; they could give instructions for the drug delivery system to communicate directly to the patients’ insulin pumps.

All that the patient would need to do is bring their insulin pump closer to their body, so that the pump can automatically inject and retract again.

“There is a lot of potential for growth. This is just the beginning.”

The researchers are currently investigating various routes to market and will most likely license the technology and then continue to develop it and do pre-clinical trials.

Sivarasu and Sagar are both passionate about improving healthcare in developing countries, so will continue focusing on the Indian market for this device before potentially expanding to other developing markets at a later stage. 
 

“This helps to prevent patients from experiencing unnecessary pain and discomfort while waiting for a clinician to come in to authorise and switch on the button,” explains Sivarasu. “It is also far less time-consuming and expensive...”

The dawn of south–south collaborations

Although this collaboration grew organically from a research project conducted by Sagar under the supervision of Sivarasu, Sivarasu says that he hopes to see a lot more academics from the global south working together on projects.

“For some reason, south–south collaboration is not preferred,” he explains. “There is a tendency to collaborate more with the northern hemisphere – both in India and South Africa.”

Since they share many similar challenges, Sivarasu believes that developing nations can learn a lot from one another by working together and aiding each other’s development in the process. This is particularly true for South Africa and India, which of both belong to the BRICS consortium.  
 

“There is a lot of potential for growth. This is just the beginning.”

The global reduction in funding for research after the financial meltdown of 2008 had the knock-on effect of reducing the amount of money in the form of grants coming to the global south, particularly to South Africa. “If we look to where there is money in terms of collaboration and building capacity, it’s in the east, especially in China and India,” says Sivarasu.

“My feeling is that things are changing, and we need to start looking in a different direction.”


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