Artificial Intelligence System Aims To Identify Drug Thefts In Hospitals

By Kelly Burch 10/05/18

The technology is meant to be used as a tool to help administrators monitor employees and alert them to anything unusual. 

Nurses and doctors walking down a hospital hallway

A new artificial intelligence system will monitor hospital workers and assign them a score that indicates how likely they are to steal prescription drugs from their workplace. The technology will address the growing issue of healthcare workers diverting drugs from their place of employment. 

“The technology calculates how unusual one’s behavior is versus peers in their department, as well as peers across other hospitals, and analyzes a number of underlying metrics and patterns to create an overall risk score,” said Kevin MacDonald, CEO of Kit Check, which developed the system. 

Kit Check develops software for prescription drug management, and works with about 400 hospitals and other healthcare clients throughout the U.S. and Canada. The new system will assign employees an Individual Risk Identification Score (IRIS). This is calculated by looking at data from drug dispensing cabinets, electronic medical records and drug disposal records.

“The IRIS dashboard then shows who has the most risk in ranked order so hospital personnel can focus on people who are showing risky patterns,” MacDonald said. “The technology allows an administrator to look at why a person is scored as unusually risky and shows the specific transactions that contributed to the risk score.”

The technology is meant to be used as a tool to help administrators monitor employees and alert them to anything unusual. 

“A person’s score can change over time, and it’s not a 100% certainty that a high score means a staff member is diverting medications,” MacDonald said. “There will be situations where a person’s patterns shifted in an unusual—but explainable—way, for example, temporarily getting assigned to a different department/pattern. IRIS allows hospital personnel to have that conversation, evaluate the available data, and move on to other staff members that represent high risk.”

A Utah hospital reported that up to 4,800 patients may have been exposed to hepatitis C in 2015 through a nurse who diverted medications by swapping needles with narcotics for needles containing saline. Healthcare workers who steal medications is a growing problem, according to some healthcare professionals. 

“I think we’re all trying to figure this out,” said Angela Dunn, a medical epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scott Byington, president of the Utah chapter of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, said that diversions from hospitals are likely to go unreported. 

“A lot of the clinics or hospitals, when they catch employees doing theft, I would say more go unreported than reported,” he said. “All of a sudden somebody doesn’t show up for work and the rumor mill starts going. They’ll report it to us anonymously, usually, and when we go to investigate, (Human Resources employees) sometimes will just say, ‘We’re not going to release any information from that.’”

Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer at McKay-Dee Hospital in Utah where the hep-C exposures occurred, said drug abuse is "rampant in communities across our country. Hospital personnel, hospital employees aren't any different."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.