Life saving drug monitoring system to become accessible to all pharmacies

The Czech Chamber of Pharmacies is working on a new project to help chemists monitor the combination of drugs used by their clients. With the help of computer software and electronic cards, an estimated 300 of the country's 2000 pharmacies can already warn their clients if they are about to use a combination of drugs that can harm their health. The new project is hoping to make it affordable for pharmacies across the country to introduce the service. This report by Dita Asiedu:

Mrs Sumova is one of many pensioners in the Czech Republic relying on medication combining several prescription drugs a day. But if she were to pick up a certain over-the-counter pain reliever, to rid her off a headache for example, it could cost her her life. She is aware of this but many facing a similar risk may not have been alerted to the fact, or are simply too old to remember.

A simple electronic chip and a computer programme can avoid such health risks. Tomas Svoboda heads the pharmacy at Vsetin hospital, eastern Moravia, which has just introduced this revolutionary service to its clients:

"It often happens that a patient visits various doctors, gets prescription drugs but then also decides to buy an over-the-counter drug. That can be dangerous. So, we started working on the project this year and managed to finalise it and introduce the card in time for Christmas. With the help of our electronic card that our clients use, we can avoid such dangerous combinations. It serves as the patient's identity card and is connected to a database that holds his medication history - the drugs the patient has bought here or had a prescription for."

The pharmacy at Vsetin hospital offers the electronic card to its patients at no cost. But it relies on its own database. The client's card cannot be used at other pharmacies. While smaller villages and towns like Vsetin have their regular clientele, a large city like Prague does not enjoy that luxury. The Czech Chamber of Pharmacies is therefore working on a project to introduce a system that connects all pharmacies. The Chamber's president, Dr Lubomir Chudoba:

"I think one in every six pharmacies already has such a system and we are hoping to sign a contract with a software company next year to offer more exclusive conditions to pharmacies to make it affordable and accessible to all. We're also going to hold a number of seminars around the country to teach pharmacists how to use the database and look out for dangerous combinations of drugs."

There are many risky drug combinations that pharmacists have to monitor. If you take a blood-thinning drug, for example, you should not be on certain antibiotics and should most certainly avoid aspirin, which thins blood even further. Mr Svoboda says his pharmacy introduced the drug for a second reason:

"Due to pressure from the manufacturers of basic non-prescription drugs plans are underway for over-the-counter medicines to be sold in supermarkets or gas stations. With this card, we are actually pointing to the fact that some combinations with non-prescription drugs are simply irresponsible. Some patients combine four, five, eight, and sometimes even 10 different drugs at once."