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HeartDecide: Interactive Knowledge at Your Fingertips
By Annie Macios

Watch out, smartphone and tablet users. There’s a new app that could become the Angry Birds of the healthcare industry for patients, healthcare providers, and insurance companies alike.

Orca Health, a Sandy, Utah-based company, has partnered with Harvard Medical School to release the latest version of HeartDecide as well as a series of iBooks geared toward helping consumers use technology to improve their healthcare experience.

HeartDecide, a 3D app for iOS, has undergone a major update to help users better understand heart anatomy, conditions, best practices, and solutions using the interactive technology. It also directs users to top local specialists. The four interactive iBooks—Angina, Angioplasty, Cardiac Catheterization, and Atherosclerosis—complement HeartDecide.

Matt Berry, CEO of Orca Health, believes the updated HeartDecide app will be especially useful for patients looking to find information on medical anatomy, terminology, and possible treatments, and locate a qualified specialist within their network. 3D animations, interactive text, annotation, and note-taking features intuitively enhance the multisensory learning experience with a depth not possible through traditional publishing, he says.

“The medical IP, 3D models, iOS code to manipulate them, user interface, etc are all unique to Orca and Harvard Medical School. We have really strived to incorporate multisensory technology into each of our apps and iBooks because studies show that people comprehend and retain information better and faster when more than one sense is involved in the learning process,” Berry says.

In addition to HeartDecide, Orca Health’s HealthDecide series includes apps for a variety of healthcare disciplines: food, knee, dental, ENT (ear, nose, and throat), spine, eye, shoulder, hand, breast, face, and kids’ dental. The partnership between Orca Health and Harvard Medical School will enable content on each of these apps to be augmented as well.

Combining the highest-quality content with innovative mobile technology, the partnership collaborated to set the global standard for interactive health education. What is different than other patient education resources, such as WebMD, for example, is that health education apps by Orca Health are multisensory, enabling users to learn material in a variety of ways. Every Orca app helps users learn using sight, sound, touch, and real interactivity, with each app featuring interactive 3D animations that allow users to explore anatomy.

In addition, each app contains visual imagery of conditions, including photographs, X-rays, and animation. The use of augmented reality—defined as a view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are enhanced by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, and graphics—provides a unique way to improve comprehension by enhancing the user’s own worldview with relevant visual and auditory information, according to Orca Health.

Audio explanations accompany verbal descriptions of common conditions and symptoms, and provide users with an understanding of what certain conditions sound like, where applicable. Features such as “touch where it hurts” let users locate pain in their foot or hand and find the condition that most likely corresponds in the animated version.

Features of each interactive app, available for free download, include the following:

• information to understand symptoms and to stay healthy and get well sooner;

• common conditions in each specialty, with multisensory features and interactive 3D animations;

• increased health knowledge with video, augmented reality, medical imagery, and audio explanations of common conditions;

• capability to discover whether a doctor accepts a particular insurance prior to scheduling an appointment;

• directories to find the best physicians and specialists nearby; and

• national hospital rankings and physician referral data to find the best doctors.

Each of these features ultimately provides patients with improved confidence to make better decisions about their health, while physicians can benefit from more productive clinic visits, fewer returns, and improved health outcomes, saving time and money.

Berry believes that smartphone and tablet technology is the wave of the future for how physicians can incorporate patient education into their treatment plans.

“Estimates put the cost of low-health literacy—people with average or below average ability to comprehend basic medical information—between $106 billion and $238 billion annually. Clearly, traditional patient education materials are not getting the information across adequately,” says Berry, who believes that with universally accessible mobile technology, including tablets and smartphones, healthcare providers are no longer limited to material that is 2D, static, and boring.

The ability for doctors to use visual imagery in mobile apps to explain conditions while allowing the patient to also look at that information on their own, educate themselves, and have better informed questions to ask their physician can eliminate some of the questions that traditionally waste physicians’ time.

“Asking the right types of questions during a short doctor visit can help reduce the inefficiencies, and this technology can then help patients retain the information given by the doctor. These tools improve the patient experience and the relationship they have with their healthcare provider, ultimately easing some of the burden on an already overwhelmed and highly saturated healthcare system,” Berry says.

Annie Macios is a freelance writer based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.