Fifty Years: The Iowa Drug Information Service

January 30, 2015

After 50 years of publishing a vital resource to assist decision-making in the use of medications and health care services, the Iowa Drug Information Service (IDIS) closed its doors on Dec. 31, 2014. The Iowa Drug Information Service began in 1965 as a result of a federally-supported study on patient care under a unit dose drug distribution system. 

William W. Tester was an early innovator and researcher in the area of hospital-based unit dose drug distribution systems. In 1964, the UI College of Pharmacy, under Tester’s direction, launched the first formal studies of a unit dose system. Through such systems – the standard today – medication is dispensed in a package that is ready to administer to the patient. This research, representing a philosophical shift in pharmacists’ responsibility, placed the pharmacist in the immediate vicinity of patient care and drug delivery. 

This study changed hospital pharmacy practice, both in function and in philosophy, by demonstrating that unit dose drug distribution decreased medication errors and improved compliance. For the first time, pharmacists proactively monitored patient drug regimens before the medication was dispensed and administered. 

But changing the physical distribution system was not enough. 

With a new medication distribution system in place, the need for drug information sources increased exponentially. As a result, William Tester established the Iowa Drug Information Service (IDIS) to promote better patient care through drug therapy by improved availability of drug information, to stimulate the effective use of drug information resources by pharmacists and physicians, and to expand the role of the pharmacist in providing drug information services to the hospital and community. 

IDIS became an internationally recognized drug information database that grew to over 1000 subscribers, and represented over 60 foreign countries. The database itself contains over three-quarters of a million documents.

Each document is indexed by pharmacists to precisely represent the drug information content of that document. It is this indexing, with vocabularies for drugs, diseases, and other descriptors, that permits users of the database to retrieve very specific information to apply their immediate needs. 

The impact of Tester and his research team, IDIS, the College of Pharmacy manufacturing department and the computer science department, was critical to the continuing evolution of pharmacy. Students and graduate students influenced by Tester continued to push forward the unit dose concept as well as clinical pharmacy as they graduated and went into practice.

Hazel Seaba became an assistant director at IDIS in 1971 and ultimately became director in 1976. It was during her tenure that Iowa Drug Information Network was developed, bringing IDIS into the online age. Seaba also implemented a customized drug information training program for international pharmacists. As an educator, Seaba created, initiated, and taught the required drug information coursework in both the Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Pharmacy curricula. Seaba served as the director for nearly 30 years.

Kevin G. Moores joined the College of Pharmacy as the Director of the Division of Drug Information Service and Clinical Associate Professor in August of 2005. He had previously served as a supervisor for the Drug Information Center and Statewide Poison Control Center at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics from 1983 – 1992, and directed drug information services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Creighton University before his return to Iowa. 

Moores is still overseeing some of the subscriber services as they transition to new drug information systems. “Professors Tester and Seaba deserve tremendously high praise for first paving the way and later sustaining the indexing service for fifty years. Their vision and leadership are unparalleled. The service they created provided wonderful support to the development of clinical pharmacy services worldwide. I also want to thank the dedicated staff who worked for IDIS over the years. Their attention to detail and customer service first attitude were vital to the success of the service,” said Dr. Moores.

The IDIS 4.0 Drug Database will remain accessible up to June of 2015 in order to assist current subscribers in transition to other services.