According to a 2016 study, the number of deaths attributable to medical error accounted for roughly 10 percent of all U.S. deaths — surpassing the third-leading cause as categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those unfortunate statistics stem directly from complications and side-effects caused by medications, whether over-the-counter or prescribed. In fact, based on information from a 2011 study, it was revealed that over 2.3 million emergency room visits per year were due to adverse reactions caused by pharmaceuticals.
As a software engineer at Medzii, a health startup based in Bellevue, Washington, DigiPen graduate Jiyun Kang (2016, BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation) has developed an app that’s designed to prevent that very type of scenario.
“We are trying to give people information and resources so that they can make better and safer decisions when they consider taking a medication, or even when they are already taking it,” Kang says.
Released close to a year ago for iOS, the Medzii app offers a searchable database comprising more than 60,000 drugs and 30,000 supplements — including clear and digestible information pertaining to risks, side effects, and potentially dangerous interactions with other drugs. In addition to cataloguing each drug’s individual risk factors, users can view a list of alternatives, along with their own corresponding risks and side effects. Each drug entry also provides information on recalls, box warnings, and links to related news articles.
The information itself is processed and analyzed from a variety of reputable sources, including the Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health, drug labels, doctor reports, and pharmacists. The goal, Kang says, is to provide users with a transparent look at the known risks, without endorsing any particular drugs or treatments.
“We are also trying to personalize this app to the user,” Kang says. “You can add your medication, condition, or allergies on your profile, and we will try to give you personalized information.”
Kang joined the Medzii team in 2017 after learning about the company from a DigiPen adjunct professor, who happened to know that the two Medzii co-founders — Ravi Soin and Ben Lo — were recruiting for their new business venture.
“I took a machine learning class during my very last semester. My current bosses and the professor were in the same company, and the professor knew my bosses were trying to make this Medzii team, so he introduced me,” Kang says. “I met them and heard about Medzii and their goal. I really liked the idea and what they were trying to do for people, so I ended up working here.”
For her first three years with the company, Kang worked as the primary app developer — helping to bring the company’s vision to life.
“I basically implemented the entire Medzii app start to end. We published the app in 2020, so now I am polishing the app, fixing the bugs, and working on new features,” she says. “I’m working on the data side as well. I work with our pharmacist team to manage their schedule and handle the manual drug data entry. I created the data pipeline to inject raw data into the database. I recently began working on the supplement data as well.”
Originally from South Korea, Kang came to DigiPen via a dual-degree educational partnership with Keimyung University, based in the city of Daegu. Participants in the program have the option of completing the first half of their studies in South Korea and the latter half at DigiPen’s Redmond, Washington, campus. Graduates, in turn, earn degrees from both institutions.
“My mom and I were checking university brochures after my Korean CSAT, and somehow my mom found this degree from a giant list. I thought learning about games was super interesting and something that I never experienced before, so I just decided to apply. It was quite simple,” Kang says. “I got in and this is where I am now.”
In many respects, she says, working at Medzii is similar to her experience of working on a DigiPen game project. That’s partly because she also works closely with fellow DigiPen graduate Deok-Hwa Seo (2016, BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation), who also completed the dual-degree program at Keimyung University.
I thought learning about games was super interesting and something that I never experienced before, so I just decided to apply.
“We are small team, so Deok-Hwa and I interact quite a lot,” Kang says. “The vibe of our company is friendly. Medzii is a horizontal team, so we need to be self-motivated and find our own tasks. We make decisions together through meetings and don’t hesitate to bring our ideas or opinions to the team.”
Another similarity to her DigiPen game team experience is the satisfaction she feels from seeing her lines of code come alive — in this case, in the form of an aesthetically pleasing iOS application.
“I think the most rewarding aspect is when I actually see my working result or output. After I have implemented a feature and tested my code on the app, I can see that my code is actually working on the screen,” she says.
The Medzii app is available for free on iOS devices. You can also access the Medzii pharmaceutical database via the company’s website.