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Mobile medical apps ease communication among physicians, nurses and patients

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As we approach year 2020, 5G wireless communications will come into use, according to the Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance.

That’s when multimedia and communication applications in medicine will grow to include ubiquitous 3-D medical imaging and high-quality video calls and conferences anytime, anywhere.

While we wait for 5G, mobile medical apps available today include drawMD for sketching out the body with drawings and overlays of medical conditions for patient education. This app should see broad exposure thanks to its recent retooling that enables physicians to use its templates and resources across many specialties.

The eAttending app enables the physician to be in many places at once virtually—at least where verbal orders are concerned. Errant transposition of prescription spellings due to unclear voice communication should be a thing of the past.

The Medicode app pushes medical algorithms further from printed paper resources, helping to save more patients (and trees). If you never forget your phone, you’ll never be without a backup in the form of Medicode’s algorithmic life support data.

Medical app #1: drawMD

This app illustrates what the doctor needs to say.

DrawMD urology
The drawMD app helps physicians illustrate conditions to patients.

DrawMD from Visible Health is an iPad app that enables physicians to illustrate health information by drawing when consulting with patients.

“There are more versions of drawMD in the works and plans for up to an infinite number of additional apps down the road,” says John K. Cox, President of Visible Health, Inc., in Austin.

The app helps a physician educate patients about their conditions and the procedures they are about to undergo. “The drawMD app makes medical concepts understandable as the physician selects a template with a background image, such as a prostate,” says Cox.

Physicians use their fingers to draw on the template and map out conditions such as a prostate tumor, its orientation, and how to treat it.

The physician can also add the drawing and any subsequent drawings to the patient’s medical record or email it to other physicians.

Eli Sprecher, M.D., is a general pediatric fellow at Harvard’s Boston Children’s Hospital, where he serves a 15,000-patient hospital-affiliated pediatric practice that is largely comprised of complex pediatric cases.

Sprecher was looking for a way to better explain his patients’ conditions and needs to both them and to their parents. “While I was still a resident, asthma was a big issue as a chronic disease in children,” says Sprecher. A visual aid would help to illustrate the difference between kids who have their asthma under control and kids who don’t have asthma.

Using the pediatric version of drawMD, Sprecher educates patients, explaining their conditions so they can understand their health. “I also use it to explain pathophysiology from lab findings, to explain the medical history, and to guide parents in what to look out for,” he says.

Sprecher’s favorite features in the app include the quality of the ability to annotate and draw on the templates. “Kids love to draw on it. It also helps me to customize and emphasize medical information,” Sprecher says.

A physician can draw attention to a certain area of concern in a template, call out certain aspects through illustration, and generally make the discussion more effective through imagery.

Sprecher says that Visible Health has been very open to suggestions. He is looking forward to the additional medical conditions that drawMD will eventually include. “I would like to see the ability to pull background images from one app to the next,” he says. “It would be nice to add animation and video with more dynamics, to illustrate joints in motion, for example.”

If all goes as planned, Visible Health will have provided a major release overhauling the drawMD app as of early September 2015. “We are releasing a unified drawMD application (today there are many of them, each specialty-specific) in which users are able to configure content from across our library to meet their needs.

The initial launch will be available for both iOS and Android in both phone and tablet form factors,” says Cox. This release should address much of Sprecher’s wish list.

Medical app #2: Medicode

Medicode keeps algorithms handy.

Medicode is available free in the Apple App Store.

This app for the iPhone and iPad is a life support reference tool that presents information as an overview of an entire algorithm or as a step-by-step walk through in using the algorithm in an emergency, says Karl Disque, D.O., cofounder of National Health Care Provider Solutions (NHCPS) in Henderson, Nevada.

“Physicians use it to eliminate carrying books and cards in pockets so they can instead keep the latest algorithms for BLS, ACLS and PALS on their smartphones or tablets,” says Disque.

Anesthesiologist Baroukh Levi, M.D., works at the West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Illinois. “Though I use algorithms for life support protocols frequently, it is good to have a reference to refer to,” says Levi.

Levi has memorized the necessary algorithm information he needs in his work. “There are also pocket references and cards available with this information—they are just never handy when you need them as they are easy to lose or damage,” says Levi. “But I always have my phone with me, and it keeps a wealth of information available at the tap of my finger.”

Levi likes the ease of use of the Medicode app as well as its simplicity. “It presents the most important information quickly,” he says.

Medical app #3: eAttending

eAttending rescues verbal orders from the clutches of communication errors.

EAttending iPhone
The eAttending mobile app is available for $24.99 at the Apple App Store. The first 10 faxes are free.

This app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch replaces verbal orders, enabling a physician to send signed written orders via fax to any nurse’s station equipped with a fax machine, says Larry A. Wolk, M.D., the app’s creator.

“There has been a need for this app since the inception of phone orders to take the burden off the nurse to get the verbal order that they take down as a written order correct,” says Wolk.

“An eAttending fax-based written order has the same accuracy and authority as a signed, written order given by the doctor in person,” says Wolk. The app enables the physician to record and send prescription names accurately so there’s no miscommunication. The app is also useful when faxing pharmacies directly.

A physician can add medications and dosages to communicate via the app using its internal drop down menu, by copying and pasting the data in, or by typing the information into the app. The physician then selects the nurse’s station and fax number from among those previously recorded in the app for repeated use.

Miles C. Ladenheim, M.D., is a psychiatrist based in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, who practices in the Philadelphia area. Ladenheim found verbal orders to be challenging. “Medicine is rapid. You can’t ask a nurse to wait until the doctor gets back to the floor to prescribe medication. If the patient’s condition changes, a medication change is needed as soon as possible,” Ladenheim says.

At this point, traditionally the nurse would call the physician and discuss the patient’s condition, and the physician would give a verbal order for a different medication, Ladenheim says. “The doctor must sign such an order in person in 24 hours. This is OK if the doctor will be in the hospital the next day,” he says.

eAttending enables the physician to give a signed remote order that produces a written document at the nurse’s station via fax, meeting regulations without further signing and without miscommunication.

Ladenheim’s favorite features include the ability to record frequently used medication and fax information in the app so he can select it rather than type it out again and again. “It saves me a few seconds each time, avoids errors, and I also don’t particularly like the iPhone keyboard especially well,” Ladenheim says.


David Geer

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