Pharmacy tech holds patent for safer pill dispenser

By David VergunDecember 30, 2016

Patent for disposable pill dispenser
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Patent for disposable pill dispenser
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Patent for disposable pill dispenser
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Patent for disposable pill dispenser
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Patent for disposable pill dispenser
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- It takes a team of professionals -- doctors, nurses, behavioral health experts and support staff -- to deliver quality health care to Soldiers, retirees and their Families.

One such person serving in a vital supporting role is Ming Koh, a pharmacy technician at Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

He and others at the pharmacy realize that safety and service are paramount in what they do every day. "Supporting Soldiers and their families is a sacred responsibility," he said


Even after work, Koh said his mind often drifts to safety and service and ways he can improve it.

Koh noticed that when pills are prescribed, the same tray and spatula is used over and over. This has been the method of dispensing medication for 80 years in every pharmacy in the world, he said.

The problem with doing it this way, he said is that "some drugs, especially penicillin, sulfa and oncology-related agents can pose a potential cross-contamination health risk. The threat from penicillin and sulfa is allergic reactions, but for chemotherapy drugs it is toxicity. Anyone who opens a pill bottle can see the residue at the bottom. But we don't really know how big a health problem this poses."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in 2013 titled "Evaluation of Pharmaceutical Dust Exposures at an Outpatient Pharmacy."

Koh added that people on pain medication often have amplified pain after taking meds that have been cross-contaminated. It depends on the individual's allergic reaction and the substance that contaminated the pills, he said.

"It only takes a small residue of powder," he said. "If you examine the bottom of a pill container, you will often notice a residue there, though some cannot be visually detected."

So Koh got to thinking how this process can be improved.

He came up with a device called a Single-use Disposable Pill Counting Device, for which he was awarded U.S. Patent 8066124 in 2011.

It totally eliminates cross-contamination, he said, because the tray and spatula used to move the pills from the U-shaped holding area to the dispensing side is one-use only. The trays are also designed to be easily stackable, made out of thin plastics of 0.7mm material thickness.

After it is used, it can be recycled, and each tray "costs just pennies." The trays themselves can be made from a mold die using efficient plastic injection technology.

Koh said he's hopeful the device will one day be used, but for now, it is not yet being manufactured.

In 2011, Col. Dallas W. Homas, then-hospital commander of Madigan, recognized Koh's work with a Commander's Award for Civilian Service. It reads in part, "For exceptionally meritorious service to innovate the first disposable, single-use pill-counting tray and spatula for hospitals. Your technical skills and high degree of proficiency enhances patient safety by avoiding cross-contamination."


Koh is not only an inventor, he has also re-invented himself.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, he went to work at a Motorola plant in Austin from 1989 to 1997.

His focus was on cross-contamination in semiconductor front-end wafer fabrication and back-end assembly. Semiconductors are a key component used in most electronic products.

That work was the genesis of his later patent, he said.

After the attacks of 9/11, Koh decided that he wanted to find a way to better serve his country, so he decided to go back to school to become a pharmacy technician and work for the Army.

He went to school at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Washington. In 2003 after graduating, Koh became a Department of the Army pharmacy technician, where he has since worked. He said he plans to continue working there and providing Soldiers and families the best care possible. He added that the work is "very rewarding."


Koh's son, Doug, has followed in his father's footsteps and wants to become a health care professional.

He too plans to work in the pharmacy, and expects to graduate from Eastern Tennessee State University's College of Pharmacy in 2020, after eight years of study to become a pharmacist.

Koh's wife, Camilla, has been very supportive of his work and he of hers, he said. She's a social worker and holds a master's degree in social work, so the two are both in the health care business.

Camilla is originally from Hong Kong, he said, so she speaks Cantonese and Mandarin. He, on the other hand, only spoke Mandarin as a child, so over the years he taught himself to speak Cantonese, and now the couple is proud to be tri-lingual, with English being the third language.

As for their son Doug, he attended Army ROTC training and is not yet sure if he will one day become a pharmacist in the Army or in the civilian sector.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Regarding cross-contamination, Koh references Report No. 2010-0078-3177, April 2013, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, titled "Evaluation of Pharmaceutical Dust Exposures at an Outpatient Pharmacy.")

Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS

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