By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Sept. 3 (Yonhap) -- At a pharmacy or a clinic, pill counting is a common routine that pharmacists or pharmacy technicians have to undergo to ensure that an accurate amount of medication is distributed and a patient gets an accurate dosage.
And it is also part of inventory management that druggists have to do at the end of each day or month.
It is simple, repetitive work but very important for a pharmacy. If a patient does not receive the correct number of pills, the consequences can be life threatening and clinic efficiency is significantly hampered.
Benny Park, founder and CEO of South Korean pharm tech startup Medility Inc., developed the pill counting app Pilleye in 2020 to ease the burden of hand counting that health care professionals suffer every day, based on his decadelong experience of practicing pharmacy.
"It is a repetitive, non-value-added back-office task, which is tedious and time consuming, for a pharmacist," the businessman said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency held Wednesday.
"If I count 180 tablets and someone talks to me or calls me, I have to start over. It takes hours," he said. "I wanted to remove these simple repetitive manual tasks and help pharmacies focus more on what they have to do, like patient care."
Some older patients receive a 30-day supply of medication at a time, and pharmacists have to hand count several hundreds of pills and pack them accurately by date in a short period of time. The exact, precise number of pills should be dispensed, he added.
Pilleye is an application that provides an artificial intelligence-powered pill counting service, launched in 2020, through a smartphone camera. It can count up to 1,000 pills on a photo, with an accuracy of 99.99 percent, and logs drug data.
Park said Pilleye is based on the computer vision technology, a field of AI, which enables computers and systems to derive information from visual inputs, like digital images and videos.
Pilleye's AI program analyzes the pills on uploaded images, identifies the shape, color and patterns of the medicine and counts them.
It is a single AI model that can handle different formulations and packaging for each country, said Park.
"It takes around 10 minutes to count manually 1,000 pills without distractions. With Pilleye, it takes only a few seconds to take a picture and analyze it," he said. "In a controlled environment, Pilleye demonstrates 99.99 percent accuracy."
The application has been welcomed by people working with medicine across the world who suffer from similar pill-counting stress. It is used by 400,000 people in more than 200 countries and territories, with 250,000 users from the United States, according to Medility.
"In the U.S., pills are packed in a huge bottle or box and pharmacists have to sort them out every time. So demand for pill counting machines, apps and devices is high," he said.
He said Pilleye has a competitive edge over other foreign rivals due to its more accurate, faster, simpler and cheaper model. It uses a smartphone and its AI recognizes nearly all kinds of tablets, including transparent pills and capsules, such as omega-3 fish oil supplements, which can be hardly recognized by machine pill counters using light and laser beams.
His long-term plan is to grow Pilleye into a global pharmacy platform that helps pharmacies operate in a more efficient and patient-oriented way by reducing mundane tasks.
"We are going to expand our program to let pharmacies link with prescriptions that they received from patients, making sure that they have filled the prescription correctly," Park said. "Then, druggists will focus more on important stuff, like dispensing prescription medications and providing information about the drugs and their use, than on cumbersome work, like counting pills."
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