Breakthroughs and Innovations Under Investigation
Breakthroughs in the pharmacy field play a major role in improving the health care system. They may range from the discovery of new medicines to the application of technology in an unprecedented way. These kinds of medical advancements have helped to make the quality of life better for people facing all kinds of conditions, from HIV to cancer to diabetes, and also help healthy people stay that way. Following are a few discoveries that have already had a major impact on improving patient care and modernizing the pharmacy field, along with some examples of innovations currently under investigation.
The World’s Largest Artificial Neural Network
In 2012 Google[x] and Stanford University researchers teamed up to build the world’s largest artificial neural network designed to simulate the human brain. A year later, Andrew Ng, director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, and his team have developed another neural network that is over six times the size of the one built in 2012.
This breakthrough is significant it means that we are progressing towards being able to give robots human-level intelligence. Neural networks model the way that biological brains function – using mathematics – the networks allow a machine to learn to think the same way that humans do using parameters, which are the digital version of neural connections. According to PopSci the new artificial neural network created by Ng and other Stanford researchers is 11.2 billion parameters compared to the 2012 model, which was made up of 1.7 billion parameters.
“It gives me hope –- no, more than hope –- that we might be able to do this,” said Ng, who was also part of team who built the Goggle [x] neural network. “We clearly don’t have the right algorithms yet. It’s going to take decades. This is not going to be an easy one, but I think there’s hope,” he recently told Wired. While this newest network is the largest ever built it pales in comparison to the human brain’s 100 trillion connections.
Smart Stiches—Sewing Up with a New Type of Sutures May Speed Up Healing
Stiches used to sew up wounds are also called sutures. These stiches have ultrathin silicon sensors that are thin enough to thread through needles and would help monitor wounds and accelerate the healing process. The electronic stiches were invented by John Rogers who is a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
According to Discovery.com, Rogers and his team were able to use the sutures and knot them without harming the sensors during animal tests. The invention can be used as traditional stiches that also monitor elevated temperatures, thus indicating infection, apply heat to help the healing process, and eventually deliver medicine.
Blood Monitoring Patch—an Innovation to Test Blood Without Needles
A company named Sano Intelligence is developing a small patch that continuously monitors an individual’s bloodstream in order to detect abnormalities. The current prototype can measure glucose and potassium levels and the materials for making the patch are inexpensive (the materials for a sensor with a seven-day lifespan currently cost $1 to $2). However, Sano Intelligence is still working out some of the patch’s issues including making it waterproof.
According to Fast Company magazine, Sano Intelligence is working on establishing a pilot study with major research-focused medical institutions, and the blood monitoring patch may be ready for release by the middle of 2013.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to work with a robot? Well, some pharmacists do, and many more might work alongside robot pharmacists in the future. As of now, robots are used mainly at pharmacy hospitals, but pharmaceutical experts predict that the technology will reach local drug stores in coming years.
The Medical Center at the University of California San Francisco uses the PillPick® automated packaging system in conjunction with RIVA (Robotic IV Automation), a robot that dispenses liquid medication; at New Jersey’s Holy Name Medical Center, robot pharmacists package, store and dispense prescriptions; and one children’s hospital in Ohio uses robots to prepare intravenous (IV) drugs.
Robots are not intended to replace pharmacists, who are integral to delivering patient care, but they can help a pharmacist do their job by speeding up manual tasks that don’t require their professional skills. In fact, pharmacy managers who have purchased and implemented this new technology report that the machines are easing pharmacists’ work load, allowing them to spend more time with patients and devote attention towards advancing various drug therapies. An increased focus on patient interaction may allow pharmacists to treat the unique health care concerns of each individual. However, robot pharmacists are still very expensive, so the likelihood of seeing one at your local drug store will remain slim until manufacturers find a way to lower their cost and make them more broadly affordable.
Electronic Health Records - Improving Patient Care Through Effective Communication
As the notion of “21st century pharmacy” continues to evolve, communication between pharmacists and other health care providers has become more important than ever. As you might guess, effective communication in health care requires diligent bookkeeping of patient files and medical information. One solution that has helped make this task easier and more efficient for health care professionals has been the invention and use of electronic health records (EHRs).
A major breakthrough in pharmaceutical care, EHRs allow the digital exchange of comprehensive patient profiles, enabling physicians, pharmacists and other members of patient’s treatment and care team to see and use the same version of a patient’s medical history. In a study of 72 Texas hospitals, the use of EHRs accounted for 15 percent fewer deaths and a 16 percent decrease in complications for patients suffering from various heart diseases and pneumonia.
Moreover, the use of EHRs has had a significant impact on reducing the amount of miscommunication that can occur between health care professionals. This innovative tool has enabled pharmacists to provide better care by keeping them more informed throughout the course of a patient’s illness and treatment. Indeed, better communication between health care professionals translates into higher quality of patient care.
Vaccine Patches - Making Prevention even more Painless
For many people, simply mentioning the word “vaccine” tends to bring up feelings of anxiety and fear, usually because many people fear the hypodermic needles traditionally used to administer them. Sometimes, patients have fear so extreme that it prevents them from keeping up with their recommended immunization schedules. Although it is possible to take some vaccines orally, most require injection, and until recently that meant using a hypodermic needle. However, one recent invention – the vaccine patch – may forever change the way we think of vaccines and the pain often associated with them.
The patch consists of 100 microscopic needles that pierce the skin upon contact and dissolve into bodily fluids, thus releasing the vaccine into an immune cell-rich area. Experiments have already proven the patch to be equally effective as traditional shots, and some scientists argue that further research will prove that patch vaccines can actually create an even better immune response than traditional shots, because the older method involves injection into muscle tissue, which does not contain a high density of immune cells.
Vaccine patches have the potential to completely revolutionize the health care delivery system; not only are they more patient-friendly, but they can also make immunizations more accessible, particularly for patients with limited health care (e.g., people who live in rural areas), because patches can be sold at pharmacies and self-administered by the patient himself or herself. Researchers also claim that the tiny needles on the patch are essentially painless and, more likely than not, will go unnoticed by the patient. The combination of these two factors make these vaccines seem less daunting for many patients, particularly children, eliminating both the pain associated with shots as well as a trip to the doctor’s office. Although the patch is not yet on the market, it is ready for clinical trials, and pharmacists estimate a cost similar to that of traditional needle-based vaccinations.