Engineers’ project just what the doctor ordered

Dawn Wiseman

These two software specialists engineered a way to keep prescriptions private while avoiding dangerous combinations.

Photo by Kate Hutchinson

“He’s a really good salesman,” said My-An Nguyen. “And she’s a really good project manager,” smiled Eric Birman.

The two software engineering grads were ribbing each other, in the manner of people who have spent a lot of time together — which they have.

Nguyen and Birman (along with fellow graduates Oshadha Yohan Kariyawasan, Eitan Levi, Zingee Ngan, François Nguyen, and David Vincelli) spent a year working on their engineering capstone project, a Prescription Management System (PMS).

The project was a proof of concept, essentially a test to demonstrate the feasibility of a system. Its focus was the replacement of paper work in the filling and management of prescriptions to minimize error, contra-indication and fraud.

The idea was inspired, in part, by Nguyen’s mother. “She’s a pharmacist, and she often has to call doctors to decipher what is written on the forms they’ve given patients.”

The team examined an idea that has been proposed at the provincial level before, replacing Medicare cards with electronic smart cards which could allow medical professionals (with proper and secure access) to link to patient information from all sources.

Birman explained, “No information would be stored on the card itself, just a private key that would allow access to that person’s information on a central server.” A public key on the server would help ensure patient privacy and security of information.

Doctors could enter prescription information directly into a patient’s electronic file, and when the patient hands his or her Medicare card to a pharmacist, that person would be able to see exactly what the doctor ordered. Errors related to poor penmanship would be a thing of the past.

Nguyen and Birman underlined that such a system should also cut down on drug interactions and on prescription abuse, because doctors would be able to see how often, and where, patients were attempting to fill prescriptions.

“We managed to show that the system is feasible,” said Birman, donning his salesman’s hat and adding, “As a proof of concept, it’s marketable.”

As project manager, Nguyen cocked her head and said more cautiously, “What we have can be built upon.”

While both students are interested in pursuing the project, graduation has them heading in different directions. Birman has already started work as the Director of IT at Olymbec, Quebec’s largest owner and leaser of industrial property. Nguyen is pursuing an internship at IBM Canada that she hopes will become permanent.