PSA life member Steve Cohen is not slowing down on a mission to improve medicines safety. He tells of the many changes he’s seen in a career spanning half a century.
What started you on your road to advocacy around consumer information, safety and health literacy?
I was born with very bad vision – myopic astigmatism – so I have always been aware of what it’s like not to have good vision.
Later I owned a pharmacy in Marrickville, a very multicultural part of Sydney, and I was always concerned that customers might take their medications incorrectly if they couldn’t read their medicine labels.
Before translation software was readily available, how did you improve medicine safety?
I always had multilingual staff. I would have someone who spoke Greek, someone who spoke Arabic and someone who spoke Vietnamese.
I had also learned German and French at school and could understand a little bit of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese from my days of learning Latin so we had quite a broad knowledge base to be able to help them.
Interestingly enough though, in the mid-1980s, I was involved in selling the first computers into pharmacy. I helped train pharmacists to use them and the software that translated labels into different languages.
After 50-odd years in the industry, what are your words of wisdom for pharmacists today?
Don’t be confined to traditional ideas of pharmacy – it’s such a broad area. You can work in retail, the pharmaceutical industry, manufacturing but you can also diversify and have your own website for pharmacy-related business.
Business has become really, really competitive in the last 50 years so pharmacists today need to start having special business models.
Tell us about your online business – Our Pills Talk – and why you started it.
I developed a medicine safety app – Our Pills Talk – where people can scan QR barcode labels and the app will read out their doctor’s prescription information and instructions. It will also translate the labels into their preferred language.
All the pharmacist needs to do is print out a QR barcode label that they place alongside their traditional pharmacy label for the patient to scan.
What led me down this pathway is that it’s costing our government up to $1.4 billion annually with 250,000 people admitted to public hospitals due to adverse drug events.
What are your thoughts on retirement?
I’m allergic to it.