Susquehanna Health Physicians Tap into Medical Apps for Efficient Patient Care

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Hands on technology enters the doctor's office and healthcare consumers may soon recognize a trend in the use of smartphones and tablets (such as the iPad) in patient care.

Dr. Sarah Kent and Dr. Timothy Heilmann

“Efficiency and safety are two benefits of using apps,” said Dr. Heilmann. “In the past you’d have to remember everything. Now we have information right in hand.”

The next time you visit your family doctor, don’t be surprised if he or she pulls out a mobile phone during your exam. Although this may appear to be a momentary interruption, it could ultimately benefit your health. Healthcare consumers may soon recognize a trend in the use of smartphones and tablets (such as the iPad) in patient care. Susquehanna Health’s Williamsport Family Medicine Residency faculty member Dr. Sarah Kent is well versed in medical electronic resources and even teaches a course to keep residents apprised of the latest apps for smartphones and tablets as well as other online resources.

The residency program, according to Dr. Kent, is making good use of apps in place of paper medical reference booklets that doctors traditionally carried around with them. Apps like Sandford Guide and the OB Wheel Pro now replace the need for printed guidebooks about antibiotics and the plastic wheel that doctors use to determine a pregnant woman’s due date. Residents working a pediatric rotation make use of an app called Pedi STAT to quickly help them determine the appropriate dosage for children’s medications based on age and weight in emergencies. A similar app called QxCalculate is used for determining dosages of medicines for adults.

The highly ranked Dynamed, an evidence based online clinical resource, is used throughout Susquehanna Health, according to Dr. Kent. Also available as a mobile app, this resource is linked as a clinical tool within the computerized physician order entry system (CPOE) used when a patient is admitted to the hospital. Standard admissions orders based on the patients status and pre-programmed information in the CPOE system are another way that information technology helps ensure consistent patient care for various illnesses across the health system. “Improving patient care, outcomes and length of stay are some of the advantages of using information technology resources in medicine,” said Dr. Kent.

Apps make accessing and researching information quick and efficient, which Dr. Kent says is helpful in treating more complex patient cases. “Patients who are admitted to the hospital in this day and age are much sicker than in the past,” explained Dr. Kent. “Many illnesses that used to require hospitalization can now be treated in the outpatient setting.” In the past, patient cases requiring more complex treatment often required doctors to conduct their research in the hospital’s medical library or on desktop computers using online resources. Today, medical apps allow doctors to quickly (and literally) have current medical information at their fingertips.

Although the resources of modern technology are helpful, Dr. Kent cautions that they “should never take precedence over appropriate medical judgement. About 90 percent of the information used in medical diagnosis of a patient is gained during the clinical interview and exam,” said Dr. Kent. “About 10 percent is gained through technical resources such as X-rays and lab results.”

Williamsport Family Medicine Residency Program Associate Director and Chief Information Officer for the Susquehanna Health Medical Group Dr. Timothy Heilmann agrees that using the medical apps still requires taking personal responsibility for ensuring the sources are reliable. Dr. Heilmann uses the medical app Epocrates to reference drug dosages and interactions. Recently, he treated a patient who was already prescribed four HIV medications and requested medication for arthritis. Dr. Heilmann accessed the app on his mobile phone and entered in all of the patient’s current medications to determine whether there were any contraindications. “Efficiency and safety are two benefits of using apps,” said Dr. Heilmann. “In the past you’d have to remember everything. Now we have information right in hand.”

The residency’s goal is to enable all resident doctors to use smartphones or tablets in patient care. To make that happen, resident doctors are provided with a medical education stipend that could be used to cover continuing education fees, supplement a smartphone data plan or purchase devices like an iPhone or iPad. Most already embrace the technology. “This is a generation that is used to using these devices. Rather than placing the information somewhere else, it’s best to make it available where it is familiar for accessing and navigating,” said Dr. Heilmann.

About Susquehanna Health
Susquehanna Health is a four-hospital integrated health system including Divine Providence Hospital, Muncy Valley Hospital, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital and Williamsport Regional Medical Center located in northcentral Pennsylvania. Serving patients from an 11-county region, Susquehanna Health is a healthcare leader and has been recognized at the national and state levels for quality of care. Susquehanna Health offers a wide array of services that include cancer care, heart and vascular care/heart surgery, neurosciences including neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, OB/GYN, gastrointestinal services, behavioral health, physical rehabilitation, home care, long term care, assisted living and paramedic/ambulance services.

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Tyler Wagner
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