University of Washington gets grant to help doctors identify pregnancy drug risks

By Aditi Pai

CHCF Smartphones in Health Care ReportThe University of Washington and RightAnswer, a chemical information management service, have received a $150,000 Small Business Innovation and Research grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and launch an app that helps healthcare providers access data about the risks of taking drugs while pregnant.

According to the university, each year 40,000 infants are born with birth defects as a result of medication exposure. Some mothers, though, who have conditions like epilepsy and cancer, cannot stop their medication regimens even while pregnant.

In these situations, the woman and her physician must discuss the benefits and risks to taking specific medications during pregnancy. But the data that physicians need for these conversations is not sufficient. There are databases that can provide women and their physicians with expert reviews and evidence summaries of fetal health risks for specific medications. But even when these databases exist, according to the CDC, they are not widely available and therefore they are underused.

The app that UW and RightAnswer are working on aims to solve this problem. In the first phase of development, the team plans to question and collect answers from physicians who treat pregnant women. This data will be used to shape the content of the app.

“Providing accurate and usable information to healthcare providers at point-of-care is very challenging,” Carol Collins, clinical associate professor of pharmaceutics at the UW School of Pharmacy who is also one of the researchers on the project, said in a statement. “We have to understand what the relevant questions are that healthcare providers have and address the challenges associated with providing information on the small-screen format of mobile phones.”

The rest of the University of Washington team includes Janine Polifka, who is also the manager of the Teratogen Information System (TERIS), a database that offers information on the effects of drugs and chemicals on prenatal development and Gary Hsieh, assistant professor of human centered design and engineering at the UW College of Engineering.