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UIC pharmacy students competing in SXSW startup competition

  • From left: Soojin Jun, Amata Sok, Jennifer Mourafetis, and Kristen Karlsen.
From left: Soojin Jun, Amata Sok, Jennifer Mourafetis, and Kristen Karlsen.
March 08, 2013|By Erin Vogel @eringejuice | RedEye

Two students from UIC's College of Pharmacy will travel to Austin, Texas, this weekend to compete against seven other teams from universities such as Stanford and UC-Berkeley in the national finals of the Student Startup Madness competition at SXSW.

Soojin Jun and Jennifer Mourafetis, who graduate in May, will present their startup company Health On Time to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs at the fest after being chosen as finalists out of 64 other college startup teams. Jun and Mourafetis started the company with their classmates Kristen Karlsen and Amata Sok, both of whom will not be making the trip to SXSW.

The UIC students are developing a smartphone application for medication therapy management that uses the information from electronic health records to connect patients with their health-care providers. The goal of the app is to continue care and communication between doctors and patients after they leave the hospital.

"Everything is extremely portable and accessible to anyone the patient authorizes," Mourafetis said. "So even if you're homebound or if you have a caregiver, or you can't get to the doctor--you can still get information. Everyone's up to date, everyone's on the same page."

Jun came up with the idea five years ago while struggling to manage her father's medical care and multiple medications after he was diagnosed with cancer.

"There was nobody to provide me with advice or tools on how to take care of him," Jun said. "And since he was being taken care of by so many people at the hospital, I thought he was well taken care of--but that's a total misconception that caregivers have--they think doctors know everything. But if you think about it, patients spend more time at home than they do in hospitals."

Jun made several trips to the emergency room with her father while he was sick, where she felt they did not receive all the treatment--or the information--they needed to manage and understand his illness. Her father had plans to return to Korea because he was so distressed with the health care in the U.S, Jun said, but he passed away a week before his flight.

"There are so many gaps in care. So many people who are being overlooked," Jun said. "They are silent, they are dying--and they don't even know it. And their caregivers don't even know it."

Her father's death also inspired her to enroll in pharmacy school--a decision that wasn't easy for Jun, who was already very busy with her two young kids. She said that going into pharmacy was her last gift for her dad.

"Pharmacy is kind of like a bridge between patients and physicians," Jun said. "Pharmacists are in the perfect position to educate patients, because they are right there in front of you, dispensing the medications."

"Pharmacists are pretty much an untapped resource," Mourafetis added.

Jun and Mourafetis hope their app, which is still in the conceptual stages, will help patients and their caregivers better understand how to manage their medications and understand their side effects. Integral to the app's design is something called medication therapy management--a comprehensive review of all the medications a patient is currently taking in order to evaluate them in real time for their effectiveness against current lab reports and other data provided by the hospital.

"The underlying technology to link the emergency health records to the patients and the providers already exists," Mourafetis said. "What Soo and I found in our years in pharmacy school is that the more you educate patients, the better their outcomes are--and that is basically what this is all about."

The top three winning teams at the SXSW startup competition will get $5,000 in credits to use toward Google Cloud Platform, a tool to help startups build web applications. And if the reaction from the panel of judges at the competition is anything like the support Mourafetis and Jun have seen from their pharmacy classmates, it looks as if they have a pretty good chance at coming out on top.

"Everyone says that this is an idea that has such good merit, that needs to happen," Mourafetis said. "And I've talked to pharmacists who have been in the field for a while, and they're like, 'You must pursue this. We need this.' "

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