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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A startup has developed a way to use AI to detect when doctors may be prescribing the wrong drug — or overprescribing opioids.

Why it matters: A system that could identify prescription mistakes before they happen could help save the thousands of Americans who die each year because of preventable medication errors, and it could contribute to controlling the opioid epidemic.

How it works: In much the same way that financial institutions use automated systems to catch outlier transactions that may signal fraud, MedAware's platform analyzes the prescription patterns of thousands of physicians to flag when a medication may be in conflict with the profile of the doctor, the patient or the medical institution.

  • Gidi Stein, MedAware's CEO and a practicing physician in Israel, was inspired to start the company after hearing the story of a 9-year-old boy who died because his doctor accidentally selected the wrong drug on an electronic prescribing pull-down menu.
  • "It wasn't bad judgment on the part of the physician — it was a typo," says Stein. "And you would have thought there was some kind of spellchecker to prevent this from happening."

By the numbers: Each year in the U.S. 7,000–9,000 people die due to a medication error of some kind, and the total cost of medication mistakes is more than $40 billion a year.

What to watch: Stein is particularly worried that the rapid adoption of telemedicine during the pandemic could open the door to more medication errors, as online doctors deal with patients they may know little about.

  • "This is going to be the next phase of health care and that's perfectly OK," he says. "But we need to provide doctors the right tools so patients can be protected."
  • With the opioid epidemic accelerating during the pandemic, Stein says platforms like MedAware can help doctors quickly identify patients who might be at a higher risk of abuse before they prescribe painkillers.

The bottom line: As in other fields, the sheer amount of health data is growing beyond the ability of humans to grasp alone, creating a need for automated systems that can save us from ourselves.

Go deeper

43 mins ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: It means former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

2 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.