Computer showing SafeRX database

JAN.-FEB. 2017 |

When you walk away from your doctor’s office with a prescription in hand, you may think your problem has been solved – but a new set of health issues may be just beginning.

“Prescription medicines actually have a propensity to harm the very people they’re supposed to help,” says Kyle Hultgren, the director of the Purdue College of Pharmacy’s Center for Medication Safety Advancement (CMSA), whose mission is “making safe medication use common practice.”

Hultgren and his colleague Dan Degnan, the senior project manager at the Purdue center, knew that analyzing the FDA’s raw data about adverse drug events could lead to huge improvements in medication safety, but first they needed a way to manage and make sense of tens of millions of individual data points.

Ann Catlin

Ann-Christine Catlin

Enter ITaP Senior Research Scientist Ann Christine Catlin and her team, who worked with the CMSA team to design a data repository, known as the SafeRx database, which could be used to effectively tackle their questions about medication safety. The repository is built on HUBzero, Purdue’s ready-made cyberinfrastructure for research and education.

SafeRx has enabled Hultgren, Degnan and their colleagues to study adverse drug events across an entire population, look for trends in the ways in which people are harmed by prescription drugs and, ultimately, figure out steps that can be taken to improve medication safety. The CMSA team is using the database to investigate questions such as whether adverse effects reported by patients match up with known side effects identified by the FDA.

Examining this volume of data is unprecedented in the health care industry. “People have become numb to the idea of big data, but many people don’t realize how relatively far behind health care is in terms of the sharing of information,” says Hultgren. “Being able to work together on this is something that is unique on a level not seen in health care yet.”

One thing that makes the SafeRx database useful is that it pulls from several different sources, such as the National Drug Code Registry and the National Library of Medicine, as well as self-reported patient complaints from social media sites, which Hultgren, Degnan and their team are using to investigate whether medical professionals report medication errors at the same rate people experience them.

“We’re building an environment that brings in data from many different sources and merges it together, so you can ask questions that cover data from completely disparate sources,” says Catlin. “I see that as a really important step forward.”

– Adrienne Miller, ITaP technology writer (