Helping the vision impaired

This free award-winning app assists people who have difficulty reading medication labels

AJP recently looked into the difficulty that people with limited vision can have in managing their medications.

In a large survey into the experiences of blind and partially sighted people, the Royal National Institute for Blind people (RNIB) discovered nine out of ten participants found information on medication was quite difficult or impossible to read.

Nearly half (45%) of blind and partially sighted people said they found it “impossible” to read the instructions on medication.

A further 45% said that this was “quite or very difficult”.

“It is simply unacceptable that people with sight loss cannot … read basic information about their medication,” said then RNIB chief executive Lesley-Anne Alexander on publication of the results.

The Our Pills Talk Medication Safety App is one solution to this problem, as it allows a patient’s smartphone to read prescription labels out loud to them.

It can also translate prescription labels into a patient’s language of choice.

For those who haven’t heard about it, the free app is designed to assist anyone who has difficulty reading medication labels, including patients who are visually impaired, dyslexic, autistic, elderly, ESL (English-as-a-Second Language) patients and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“Our Pills Talk Medication Safety App is designed to fill an unfortunate void in our world to support our disadvantaged by speaking out to them that they are taking the correct medicines,” says Our Pills Talk CEO and pharmacist Steve Cohen.

“It speaks out the drug name, then their name, then how to take it. And if they don’t understand English, it will speak out the doctor’s sigs [directions] translated into their preferred language.”

This helps to reduce adverse drug events which is currently costing our government over $1.2 billion annually, says Mr Cohen.

He points out that the app won the NPS Medicinewise Award in the category “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Initiatives” in June this year.

It was also awarded first prize in the “Enabling System Change” category of the NSW government’s Apps4NSW competition in 2014.

Mr Cohen tells AJP he got the idea for the app because he was born extremely short sighted.

“In my later years, I was directed through various medical, computer software developers e.g. Microsoft, and pharmaceutical events, as to how words can be spoken out from a phone.”

Along with the benefits of the versatility of QR barcodes, he says it was “easy” to see the benefits these could bring to the vision impaired.

So how does the app work?

  1. The patient downloads and installs the Our Pills Talk Medication Safety App on to their mobile phone.
  2. The pharmacist generates the patient’s personalized QR barcode on the prescription label and then sticks it onto the patient’s medication.
  3. The patient, using their smartphone, scans this QR barcode, converting their doctor’s prescription information and instructions from text to speech. The patient confirms that this is their correct medication by listening to the scanned and spoken information.
A screenshot of the app interface.

The QR Barcode, once scanned, also allows immediate access to:

  • the drug’s CMI (Consumer Medicine Information), and/or
  • A translation into any language of the patient’s choosing
  • Creation of alarms to help schedule patients to remember their medication

It is easy for users to locate the QR barcode label as they can feel where the square-shaped label has been placed on their pills by their dispensing pharmacist, explains Mr Cohen.

The following software providers are able to print out the Our Pills Talk Medication Safety QR barcode labels: Fred NXT, Simple Retail’s Aquarius, Corum LOTS, and Merlin’s public hospital PharmHos dispensary software.

Many pharmacies may be using these dispensary software programs but not be aware that they can use it to print out the QR labels, says Mr Cohen.

“Pharmacists can introduce this to their customers, who may also bring in relatives or friends who are disadvantaged in reading their labels,” he says, adding that this could increase a pharmacy’s business by bringing in new customers for the service.

When the app is set to display in a foreign language the app titles are also shown in English in smaller text, so that a locum doctor or emergency department staff in a hospital can still navigate the Our Pills Talk app to get the patient’s medication information.

“All scans are stored securely within the Medicines Tab in the event of an emergency trip to the ED in our public hospitals – or if they visit a locum GP,” says Mr Cohen.

All scans can simply and readily be emailed to the recipient, for example medical staff, a new pharmacy, or the patient.

The app also lists allergies, who to contact in an emergency as registered when they download the App, and links out the government’s HealthDirect website.

See more about the app here. It is available for download for free through the Apple App Store and through Google Play.

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