February 18, 2014

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Take One Tablet

When Your Mobile Device Becomes a Medical Tool

By Dan Sorensen

February 18, 2014

Ever used Google to search for information on medical symptoms? It’s not a great idea. The flood of contradictory and inaccurate information will leave you believing your ingrown toenail is going to result in an amputation of your foot.

New healthcare apps aim to provide accurate and relevant information about specific health conditions. Others prompt patients to take their medication or follow through with other aspects of managing a chronic health condition. In fact, some of the top medical apps in the world are being created by Utah companies and schools.

Patient Education

When patients are diagnosed with an illness, no matter how serious it might be, many immediately begin looking for information to aid them on their road to recovery. While doctors often have pamphlets available that offer support, share steps to recovery and provide information on specific illnesses, the content can be outdated and is often not enough to satisfy the insatiable curiosity of patients. 

To bridge the information gap between dusty waiting-room pamphlets and scary Google search results, Sandy-based Orca Health developed a series of apps that allow doctors to better tailor their information to those they treat.

“Orca was born out of a discussion with my father, an orthopedic surgeon at TOSH, about macro issues in the healthcare system. I wanted to create a way to replicate him in a very interactive way with videos, 3D graphics and illustrations, to provide patients with more information in a more interactive way,” says Matt Berry, Orca Health CEO. 

Orca Health has released several apps, including Spine Decide, which enables physicians to show patients detailed anatomical illustrations and other graphics. Other apps include Dental Decide, Foot Decide and Heart Decide.

“After building Spine Decide, we put it in the app store and it was No. 1 in the medical section for nine straight weeks. Now, we just hit 2 million downloads and are building in more point-of-care solutions.” 

Orca Health’s apps allow physicians to send personalized medical information—like X-rays, test results and custom charts—to patients, sending them home with answers instead of questions. Not only does this provide peace of mind but it ensures patients are aware of what they need to do to become healthy again while reducing the potential of finding false or misleading information online.

“Really, what’s driving the growth of apps like Orca is the adoption of mobile devices, because physicians have these great tools at home, and they are driving the demand to incorporate these devices into the hospital,” says Berry.

It’s Just a Game

Other Utah developers are incorporating apps into the lives of patients to help them heal in a variety of different ways. For example, games that remind patients to take their medicine or complete exercises can help them better manage health conditions. This concept is called “gamification,” and developers use these types of apps to merge regular, everyday games with daily tasks that help patients stay healthy.

The University of Utah College of Pharmacy, in conjunction with the university’s entertainment arts and engineering department and Primary Children’s Medical Center, is currently developing a game called Patient Empowerment (P.E. Game), which encourages children undergoing high-dose chemotherapy to complete exercises that improve their lives.

“Generally, these kids are not engaged in their care. They don’t like the way the drugs make them feel and they weren’t participating in their physical therapy. This meant longer recovery periods and longer hospitalizations,” says Dr. John T. Langell, executive director of the Center for Medical Innovation. “The teams knew kids like video games, so they created P.E. Game using Wii movement capture technology that incorporates exercises that are designed by a physical therapist into video game play to get them to do their physical therapy to heal faster.” 

Similar apps are being developed for mobile devices. By linking into wireless activity trackers, like FitBit, and a diabetic’s glucometer, one app can take all that information and create an avatar on the patient’s mobile device. As the patient stays healthy and keeps their glucose levels balanced, their character’s health will improve. If the patient doesn’t stay active or regularly take their medicine, their avatar’s health will decline as well.

While many of the apps at the University of Utah are still under development, two are already producing real-world results.

eAsthma Tracker is a self-assessment tool designed to allow patients with chronic asthma to better understand their disease by tracking symptoms and identifying potential relapses or deterioration in asthma control. The app has helped patients live healthier lives while saving thousands of dollars each year. 

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