Drug safety information goes mobile

If you or your kids take multiple medications, it can be hard enough to just get the dosing and timing straight, let alone keep up-to-date on new information about drug recalls and side effects. The web—with all its infinite knowledge—can be a confusing place. But now, a new online application makes it a snap for patients to stay educated about the drugs they’re taking—and report any problems in real time. The application, called Medwatcher, lets users track the latest safety updates from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on specific drugs of interest, as well as read relevant media stories about the drugs. Importantly, it also makes it easier to report adverse events—negative effects from a medication or treatment.

“It’s well-known that the current framework for finding bad drugs—the next Avandia, for example—is problematic,” says John Brownstein, PhD, of Children’s Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP), who helped develop the application. “The goal is to put information directly into the hands of patients and physicians who are on the go, so they can be educated and able to report events quickly.”

Currently, if you experience an adverse reaction to a drug, it’s up to you or your doctor to voluntarily report it to the FDA; it’s not legally mandated. Experts estimate only a tiny fraction of adverse events ever gets reported, which means that drugs that aren’t especially safe may slip through the cracks. Brownstein says many times, patients and physicians don’t report adverse events because of “form fatigue.” “It’s currently quite time-intensive to report events,” says Brownstein. “This app will dramatically cut down the time it takes to file a report.”

For families, the app can offer a little peace of mind. “It’s critical that parents keep up to date on this information and remain aware and vigilant about the safety of drugs they are giving their children,” says Brownstein.  “For parents on the go, who already use their mobile phone as a resource, here’s an app with instant alerts from the FDA, comments by other users, all in one place.”

John Brownstein, PhD

Medwatcher has a database of over 10,000 medications and will be adding new medications as they’re approved for use. The information gathered through the app will be automatically submitted to the FDA and will be used to inform safety profiles of medications. “We hope this app will improve on voluntary reporting, so we can recognize the signals of negative drugs earlier than we would through traditional methods,” says Brownstein.