Paperless Prescriptions

IoT Empowered Prescription System

Nishan Chettri

Issue 34, May 2020

What does a recovering maker do while hospitalised? They imagine a world with prescribed medicine vending machines or services and start designing a solution, of course!

We have many maker projects submitted to us each month that solve all kinds of real-world problems. One in particular that piqued our interest was from Nishan, a maker from India who wanted to transform the medical world with an idea he came up with from his hospital bed.

Nishan's prototype to prove his concept.

Nishan was diagnosed and hospitalised with measles and jaundice. To recover, all Nishan needed was to be prescribed the correct medicine, but without the skin specialists being present, he had to wait for a whole night in a hospital bed paying the ward bills to get the treatment. Being a college student living far away from home, Nishan imagined the doctor remotely prescribing the medicine using some electronics hardware and the internet.

We got in touch with Nishan to find out more about his idea and prototype to prove the concept.

Thank you for submitting your project to us Nishan. Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

My name is Nishan Chettri. I am from a small village in one of the remotest hilly parts of India. I study at Lovely Professional University, in Punjab, which is over 2000km from home.

What got you interested in electronics and coding?

As a child, I got a severe electric shock when I was trying to unscrew a music player to repair the humming sound that it was producing.

When I was older, my friend gave me a multimeter, and I slowly started building small robots that followed a line by making my own sensor modules and driver circuits. I made many circuits without microcontrollers, then started learning about Arduino and AVR microcontrollers when they became available to me.

My love for electronics and DIY projects really sparked when I made my first mobile phone charger circuit in the first month of my college degree.

I also recently got an Azure Sphere MT3250 Kit for free, which we had to ping the server daily for 15 days. Our devices were shown on a map something like this:

That red circle is my device, which indicates the reason I am studying so far away from Home. The red circle is my home in the North Eastern part of India where no other devices other than mine are present. There is very little awareness about technical studies and exposure there, compared to where I study now.

Wow. An electric shock at any age would be terrifying. I guess that’s why they have tamperproof screws on equipment now. Tell us what inspired you to design your RFID activated IoT project?

Last year I was diagnosed with measles and jaundice at the same time. I was taken to a hospital nearby when my condition was not good. Being a college student 2000 km away from home is difficult, especially in these cases. When I reached the hospital all my tests were taken, and I just needed to be prescribed the correct medicine. But the skin specialists were not present, so I had to wait for a whole night in a hospital bed paying the ward bills and so on and so forth. What if the doctor would have remotely prescribed me, I thought!!

On a side note, it took me about 20 days to get well in hospital. I missed my semester exams, but during that time I also made a pulse Oximeter in my hospital bed because I had nothing to do.

Stuck in hospital would be costly and not so pleasant. It’s great that you put your hobby to good use while you were there. Give our readers an overview of how your project works and how you see it working in a real application.

The project would have three end users:

DOCTORS: From the interface, currently Adafruit IO, the doctor will send a prescription against a patient's unique RFID tag.

PATIENT: The patient will bear the unique RFID tag in the form of bands or stitched in the hospital merchandise or even stickers on the patient’s phone.

PHARMACY/NURSES: They will have the scanner and if the doctor has prescribed something for an RFID tag, as soon as the tag is scanned, the prescribed list would be displayed on the oled display. If not prescribed, it won’t. Also, once it is scanned, the medical history is updated in the doctor’s interface.

Interesting. Do you think something like this could become possible in the hospital system?

Yes, it would be a great addon to the medical management industry. It would save time and money for patients as well as the medical industry personnel.

We can see your theory working, providing that everybody’s privacy was protected. Are there any other applications where you think this system could work?

This could also work in medicine vending machines.

That’s not a bad idea. You could get your medicine 24/7 that way. What parts are you using in your prototype?

An MFRC522 RFID reader, RFID tags, node MCU development board and oled display.

Great. These appear to be commonly available products. What gets displayed on the LCD screen?

The medicine prescribed by doctors, sitting anywhere in the world, against a particular RFID tag of a patient will be displayed on LCD screen when the pharmacy scans the RFID tag of the patient.

Tell us more about your choice of Node MCU.

Node MCU is a WIFI enabled development board which is supported by Arduino IDE and has ESP8266 WIFI chip embedded in it. For small IOT projects, this board is really handy as it has GPIO’s, SPI, I2C, UART and all the possibilities that a microcontroller has. Its inbuilt WIFI chip gives it the edge over other Arduino boards for projects requiring internet connectivity. Also, it is very affordable.

The Node MCU WIFI enabled development board

Tell us more about the adafruit.io for our readers who have not heard of that?

Adafruit IO is a platform for makers and people learning electronics and does not have the skills to make their own webpage for sending their IOT data or controlling appliances from the internet. Its library is easily available with example codes that makers can edit and start with their IOT project with little or no knowledge about web development.

What were the main challenges of the design and testing process?

The main challenge was that, as I was sick, I could barely stay long hours on the chair trying to tinker around with the code, solder, etc.

Good point. We imagine it was hard to concentrate and have energy when you were sick. Did you code from scratch or repurpose some other code?

I used the Adafruit MQTT library and edited their example code and made some changes as per my requirement.

Libraries do make it easy. How does the end user manage the tags? Is there a user interface?

There are three end users as I mentioned Doctors, Patients and Pharmacist. The patient does not have to do anything apart from wearing the hospital clothes having the tag. And while registering the patient the tags will be registered in their name, and the doctor from anywhere could write down the medicines for the patient.

For now, there is no specific interface and I am using ADAFRUIT IO as the interface.

RFID Read & Write Module
Build using a regular perfboard
Prototype's schematic

If you were to make it again, what would you change?

I would design the pcb more compact and try to 3D print its enclosure. I would also add a bigger display to it. And instead of scanning by the pharmacist, I would make a medicine vending machine. But as I am a student with the least financial means it will take time to do that.

We imagine the vending machine could be for any purpose, not just for medicine. What projects are you working on now?

I am working on a modified Hydroponics and Aeroponics system named AGGROWSMART for growing vegetables and plants. powered by Raspberry Pi and Arduino. The Pi takes the images of the plants and sends it through email to the user, and the user could monitor and control the environment variables of the system from anywhere in the world.

That sounds like a great project. We look forward to hearing more about that one. Finally, what advice do you have for other makers like yourself who are reading this?

We as makers have the potential and innovative edge to solve various problems of our society with our designs and projects. I am a big fan of Steve Jobs and would like to quote his famous lines “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish“. A maker never becomes too old to make and create, so keep learning and making and also spreading awareness about technical knowledge in our own societies.

Sound advice. Good luck for the future Nishan, and stay healthy.

Nishan Chettri

Nishan Chettri

Recovered patient, college student, hardware enthusiast and maker.