Tech Notes reviewing four medical apps for physicians and patients
Tech Notes reviewing four medical apps for physicians and patients

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Free medical apps

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In this edition of Tech Notes, I look at two free medical applications that do a tremendous job of using a phone’s best features to help with patient care. One is a must-have for those who travel for volunteer medical work around the world. The other is a necessity for any medical provider who works with pediatric patients.

WHO Surgical Safety Checklist App

Price: Free. iPhone, iPad: Android:

There are a significant number of physicians and health care providers that go to other countries to volunteer for brief periods in resource-limited areas. Oftentimes, these providers are doing surgical procedures and working with multilingual teams. The World Health Organization (WHO) Surgical Safety Checklist app is absolutely critical if you’re one of these providers or part of a team that does this type of work.

The app, presented by WHO and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), details the Surgical Safety Checklist developed in 2008 to increase the safety of patients undergoing surgical procedures. The app is a way for surgical teams to go through an electronic form of the checklist, and it is applicable to all members of the team: surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and surgical assistants. The WHO checklist has been studied and shown to significantly decrease morbidity and mortality of surgical procedures.

The app has three main sections: before induction of anesthesia, before skin incision, and before patient leaves operating room. Each of these contains a series of questions you are supposed to go through at the appropriate stage of the surgical course.

You have the option of viewing all of these questions in a list form, but the main reason I’m featuring this app is that you can use voice commands to go through the checklist. I’ve reviewed hundreds of medical applications, and never seen one that utilizes voice commands to go through a checklist or various prompts.

Even if you don’t use the voice commands, the user interface is beautiful. The screen has huge text and large buttons—critical when you’re in the operating room and might be wearing gloves. Obviously, you wouldn’t use this app when you’re sterile, but I can imagine a tech turning on the voice prompt of the app and allowing the anesthesia and surgical team to listen.

When you complete the checklist (or portions of it), it gets saved in a calendar and time stamped. Having a time stamp forces the team to do the checklist in real time, when it matters most.

There are two areas the app could be improved: Reference sections and languages. The WHO has a great list of tools and resources on their website when it comes to implementation of the checklist. This would have been a great opportunity to put a list of references to these resources or even place those resources within this app.

The second area the app could have been improved is languages. On their website, the WHO has several different translations of their application. This is particularly important when the application is being used in different countries or if you are working with a multilingual team in an area with limited resources.

Simply Sayin’: Medical Jargon for Families

Price: Free. iPhone, iPad: Android:

Phoenix Children’s hospital continues to produce fantastic apps for the pediatric patient population. While these apps are central to their health system, they can easily be utilized by other children’s hospitals and pediatricians around the country. This particular app is tremendous for providers and patients when it comes to pediatric procedures and treatment modalities.

The name and the description might make it seem that Simply Sayin’ Medical Jargon for Families is only for patients, but the app can be utilized by providers as well. Simply Sayin’ opens with four options: glossary, preps, drawing and pictures.

The area providers can use the most is drawings, which contains more than 40 pictures that you can annotate with children and family members. For example, if you’re trying to explain what a GJ Tube is, you can select that drawing and automatically show the GJ tube overlaying the stomach with surrounding anatomy.

The best part of the drawing section is that providers are able to draw on the actual picture with different colors. One of my favorite drawings is for asthma. When you click on asthma, you are shown how the lungs look during an asthma attack.

The other three sections of the app—glossary, preps and pictures—are meant to be used by family and patients on their own. I think preps is the best section for patients and family members. Going through any type of medical procedure is anxiety-provoking for both children and parents. In this app, users are presented with bullet points and pictures on the procedure, why it’s being done, and the steps that will happen.

This is a great app for pediatricians, pediatric surgeons and pediatric nurses to use with their patients. It’s also a great application to recommend to parents. •

Iltifat Husain, M.D., is editor-in-chief and founder of He’s also assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of medical app curriculum at Wake Forest School of Medicine.


Iltifat Husain, M.D.

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