FDA to discuss role of IT in patient self-screening

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hold public hearings this Thursday and Friday, March 22 and 23, to get input on a proposal to allow consumers to purchase certain prescription drugs without a doctor's prescription, according to a recent Federal Register notice. Besides obtaining advice from pharmacists, the FDA notes, consumers could use information technology to find out whether a particular medication would be safe and effective for them.

Prescription drugs that a consumer might be able to obtain on their own include, but are not limited to, "rescue medications" such as inhalers used to treat asthma and epinephrine for allergic reactions, according to the notice. The testimony at the upcoming hearings will focus on drugs that often are prescribed for high cholesterol, hypertension, migraine headaches and asthma, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

According to language in the notice, recent technological breakthroughs might make self-screening feasible in some cases:

"FDA is aware that industry is developing new technologies that consumers could use to self-screen for a particular disease or condition and determine whether a particular medication is appropriate for them," the notice says. "For example, kiosks or other technological aids in pharmacies or on the Internet could lead consumers through an algorithm for a particular drug product. Such an algorithm could consist of a series of questions that help consumers properly self-diagnose certain medical conditions, or determine whether specific medication warnings contraindicate their use of a drug product."

Some big pharmacy chains already are using technology to help patients manage their own health. For example, Walgreens recently started employing in-store "health guides" equipped with iPads to assist customers in navigating healthcare websites. In some locations, the chain also has in-store kiosks where people can request prescription refills. Coming soon is a "virtual caregiver" that can analyze a patient's health data, such as height, weight, and glucose readings, and make suggestions about health management.

SoloHealth Station, an in-store kiosk that's being tested in retail outlets, provides screenings for vision, blood pressure, weight, body mass index, and an overall health assessment, as well as recommendations for follow-up care. The SoloHealth firm says it wants to partner with healthcare providers. Its cloud-based system has also been designed to interact with health data on mobile devices.

To learn more:
- read the FDA notice
- check out the San Diego Union-Tribune article

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