October 11, 2006

Hospitals to test medicine technology

Liv Osby  /  GreenvilleOnline.com

GHS will do trials of company's safety system

Greenville Hospital System will be the test site for a new technology aimed at reducing medication errors that will be produced at a new company lured to Charleston with seed money from a collaboration dedicated to high-tech start-up companies and improving the state's economy.

Medication errors occur more often than many people realize and kill thousands of Americans every year. In fact, a hospital patient can expect to be subjected to more than one medication error every day, according to a recent report from the Institute of Medicine.

An automated medication cart and bar code verification software system produced by Sabal Medical Inc. is being developed to help change that. Sabal relocated to Charleston from Washington state with the help of $150,000 from SCRA, formerly known as the South Carolina Research Authority. The non-profit corporation links entrepreneurs with intellectual property and money, investing up to $200,000 in fledgling companies in the hopes of generating jobs and stimulating the economy.

"By enticing high-impact technologies like Sabal Medical to relocate to the state, SCRA is fostering the growth of the knowledge economy," said Bill Mahoney, CEO of SCRA. "This seed investment will continue to pay dividends by spurring growth and development in biotechnology."

The carts and accompanying software control access to medication storage on the hospital floor, Sabal CEO Bill Park said. They are connected to a secure computer system that in turn is linked to the hospital, providing information about the patient, the orders and the nurse, and then dispensing the right medication, he said. Each cart is designed for six patients on a typical medical-surgical unit, or for one to two patients on an intensive care unit, Park said.

To be fully operational with the system, a 300-bed hospital would need 50 carts, he said. Each cart and software costs $15,000, he said. "Medication errors cost an extra $4,000 per admission on average," he said, "and 38 percent of medication errors are at the bedside where the nurse administers the medications to the patient."

The Sabal system will cut down on medication errors, Park said, although he didn't have an estimate of how much.

"Safety is such an important issue," said GHS CEO Michael Riordan, noting that the test puts the hospital in a position to help incubate the knowledge economy. "And GHS benefits by being able to offer patients the latest care advances."

Within five years, Sabal expects to employ about 50 at its Charleston facility, which should be open by the first quarter of next year, Park said. Production should be under way by the third quarter, he said.

"We are currently developing the prototype in Seattle by a third-party firm," Park said. "In the next month or two, we'll be hiring software engineers in South Carolina."