April 1, 2006 A new optical device helps reduce medication errors by recognizing medications in 30 seconds, through their unique fluorescence fingerprints. Administering the right drugs can save lives, especially with high-risk IV medications such as chemotherapy and narcotics. According to the FDA, more than one person per day in the U.S. dies from a medication error.
SALT LAKE CITY--According to the FDA, more than one person per day in the U.S. dies from a medication error. Many of those come from giving a patient the wrong dose of a drug or even the wrong drug. Now, new technology could help put an end to those errors.
University of Utah pharmacist Jim Jorgenson says preventing those errors is his main goal "We average about 2 million individual doses of medication a year here," says Jim Jorgenson, a pharmacist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
To eliminate errors, pharmacists now have a new tool -- ValiMed. Medications are drawn up and dropped in the unit. UV light shines on the drug, giving it a fluorescent glow. Just like a fingerprint, every drug has a unique glow based on its chemistry. In 30 seconds, ValiMed tells the pharmacist if he has the right drug.
Jerry Blair, a pharmacist at CDEX Corporation in Kansas City, helped develop the technology. He says, "We started on the high-risk IV medications because those are the most risky medications that pharmacists deal with."
ValiMed eliminates human error by identifying drugs, from risky antibiotic drips to dangerous narcotics. "We would like to see this technology be used at the bedside with every medication," Blair says. ValiMed can even track narcotics in hospitals, making sure the narcotics pharmacists send out to doctors are exactly what are returned.
Soon, ValiMed will be used to test chemotherapy drugs. Jorgenson says, "The goal is zero patient errors for all of this." With the little blue machine, they're getting closer to that goal than ever before.
Currently, ValiMed can identify more than 100 different drugs, but the company is adding more to the list all the time. The technology is currently being used in 12 hospitals across the country.
BACKGROUND: A new monitoring system called ValiMed flashes an ultraviolet light on tiny samples of chemotherapy drugs to make sure that the right combination and dose of chemotherapy is being administered to each patient. It's the same principle used to detect bombs.
CHEMICAL FINGERPRINTS: The ValiMed system is based on the fact that most drugs have a unique chemical "fingerprint" that can be detected when the drugs are exposed to ultraviolet light. It is a unique pattern that tells scientists when a particular molecule is present in a sample. Each chemical element emits or absorbs radiation at specific wavelengths. Sodium, for example, emits mostly orange light, while the oxygen used in neon lights emits green light.
WHAT LIGHT CAN REVEAL: Anything that produces light or radiates energy reveals information about itself. Spectroscopy is a technique used by physicists and astronomers to study the makeup of an object or substance based on the kind of light it emits. For instance, with spectroscopy, astronomers can determine what stars are made of, similar to chemical fingerprinting. By passing light from a star through an instrument called a spectrograph, the light "spreads out" into a colorful spectrum, much like passing white light through a prism. By studying how the spectrum becomes brighter or darker at each wavelength, scientists can tell what chemical elements are in the star. They can also determine its temperature, density, or how fast it might be spinning.
ABOUT CHEMOTHERAPY: Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer, in which certain drugs (poisonous to cancer cells) are injected into the blood to kill cancer cells or to stop them from spreading. They can travel around the body and attack cancer cells wherever they find them, so chemotherapy is used when cancers have spread beyond one region of the body.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.