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No More Drug Mix-ups

Brent Dallman, an entrepreneur and inventor, has developed an RFID storage system that could improve patient safety in hospitals.
By Beth Bacheldor
Apr 15, 2008— Last fall, actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins were given an accidental overdose of the blood-thinning drug heparin while in the hospital. The infants survived, but three premature babies at an Indiana hospital died last year after receiving an adult dose of heparin (which is 1,000 times stronger than what babies are supposed to receive), the same dose that was given to Quaid's children.

The problem, says entrepreneur and inventor Brent Dallman, is that it can be difficult—even for health-care professionals—to distinguish between drugs that are packaged in vials. The only difference may be the tiny print on the paper labels covering the vials, or a small colored tab on the label. Sometimes pharmacy technicians stock the wrong doses in drug storage cabinets; in other cases, nurses pull out the wrong vials from the storage cabinets.

To remedy the problem, Dallman developed the Drug Index Safety System (DISS), an RFID storage system for medicine vials. DISS includes an RFID-tagged docking station that can hold up to 50 vials and fit inside the drawer of a drug cabinet fitted with an RFID interrogator. If someone tried to put a docking station filled with adult heparin in a drawer designated for baby heparin, back-end software would alert them to the error.

A lock-and-key system would ensure that the right vials are placed in the right docking stations. Manufacturers or drug packaging companies would fit plastic "keys" around specific vials (different shapes for different doses), and those keys could be inserted only into corresponding slots in the docking station.

To further foolproof the system, Dallman would like to see RFID tags embedded in the plastic keys. Hospitals could use handheld interrogators to confirm that the correct vials are placed in a docking station. "RFID, in my opinion, is the gold standard," he says. "If RFID gets deployed, it will help save thousands of lives."

Dallman has received an international patent for DISS, and he has applied for a U.S. patent. Meanwhile, he has been showing DISS to drug companies. "Everyone in this industry understands how complex the problem is," Dallman says. But the challenge is to get the drug manufacturers to spend additional money on packaging. Still, given the competition in the industry, he thinks they'll step up. "Drug companies want to do the best they can for hospitals and for customers," Dallman says. "And hospitals are most concerned about patient safety."
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