Med Student Brings Software to Clinton Global Initiative University
- By Erin E Post
What if texting – the obsessive communication mode of teens and young adults – could help prompt patients to stay on track with medication for chronic conditions like high blood pressure, HIV, diabetes, or other illnesses?
University of Vermont medical student Luke Neill, who also received his undergraduate degree from UVM in 2011, is working with his long-time friend, Sam Meyer, on software that will do just that – give pharmacists and other healthcare providers a way to reach patients on a device they use all of the time – their cell phones. This low-cost idea could empower patients to take charge of their health, help to avoid additional problems or potentially life-threatening complications, and reduce the public health cost of medical non-compliance, which is estimated to total about $100 to $300 billion annually in the U.S. alone.
Although smartphone and computer applications for inputting personal medication information already exist, this software allows doctors and pharmacists to set up the messages and track compliance data. Meyer is working on the programming; Neill is developing the specific functions that will be useful for providers and patients. As a service that’s free to patients, this system is meant to reach populations that might not otherwise have access to such support.
“There’s a large problem in the U.S. with medication adherence,” Neill says. “We want to address that in a way that’s cost-effective.”
The pair presented their project at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, April 5 to 7. Social activists, celebrities, political leaders, and experts in technology, business, and other fields – including former President Bill Clinton himself – came to the meeting to learn and support innovative ideas from students.
For the annual conference, invitees create a “Commitment to Action” that is specific and measureable, and geared to help on any scale – from the local to the global.
“Access to basic health information and instruction is one of the primary obstacles to improving healthcare globally,” Neill states in his Commitment to Action. “By leveraging the simplicity and ubiquity of text messages, I will be able to provide patients who lack the typical healthcare infrastructure with relevant and specific instruction and support.”
Neill’s and Meyer’s HIPAA-compliant software program allows patients to enroll at the pharmacy and then begin receiving text messages that help them understand their medications and implications for their health. The messages are not simply reminders, Neill says; they are designed to monitor behavior patterns and change habits as well.
“The best part is that we can contextualize the feedback,” Neill says, citing the software's ability to provide statistics on the average rate of adherence for a particular med. When that information is delivered to patients and they can see where they fall on the spectrum, there's an opportunity to harness competitive instincts to raise adherence overall. Providers benefit from aggregate data on compliance, as well. Eventually, the goal is to make the software available in developing countries where access to other technology is limited, but cell phone use is widespread.
Neill set up a pilot to test the software with first-year students at the College of Medicine and help work out any bugs prior to the Clinton conference; next he plans to network with local pharmacists for a trial. All of these efforts come with a price tag – ultimately Neill and Meyer will be faced with applying for FDA approval, which can be a costly legal process. Neill says he’s been in contact with some foundations and non-profits interested in helping support the cause.
At Clinton Global Initiative University, Neill’s commitment was selected for recognition prior to a panel discussion on "Ensuring Medication Safety" as an exemplary approach to addressing a global public health challenge. Actor Matthew Perry welcomed Neill and Meyer to the stage for the honor. Following the session, the pair met with Michael Botticelli, the deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who expressed his congratulations.
The conference provided the networking opportunities Neill had hoped for, and he's now in contact with three groups interested in collaboration, including five medical students from St. Louis University School of Medicine who would like to use the software to educate type 2 diabetics patients at a health clinic in North St. Louis; a group working on a Rural India Social and Health Improvement project at Northwestern University; and a startup company in Poland, working on medication validation and tracking.
But perhaps the most exciting introduction came when Neill and Meyer met President Clinton and Chelsea the first evening. "Both were extremely friendly and reinforced my drive to continue on my commitment to make a positive global change," Neill says.