By: Iltifat Husain, MD/MPH, MS4 and Yousif Alkadhi, MD
One of the toughest aspects of medicine is communicating medical conditions and procedures to patients who have limited medical knowledge through the use of only words. With clinic times becoming shortened, this communication is often under strain. The new 2.0 version of the Blausen Human Atlas application aims to help providers with this type of communication. This app allows medical professionals access to a vast library of 3D video animations and images that aid in explaining medical conditions to laypersons.
The Blausen Human Atlas, made by Blausen Medical Communications, and available in the App Store for $19.99, has been in the AppStore for a few months, but the new 2.0 version is a big update. In their description of the Human Atlas in the App Store they state that the recently released 2.0 version includes 150 3D animations, a medical glossary with over 1,500 terms, 1,200 detailed still images, 360 degree rotatable 3D human figures, and the ability to purchase additional smaller atlases. Of note, this is not a stand alone application and an Internet connection is required in order to access the medical glossary, images, and videos. In the following review, we’ll go over a brief summary of how the app works and how applicable it is to healthcare settings using our own experiences with the application over the past few days.
The Human Atlas app has three basic features you can use for navigation: 3D human figure, medical glossary, and videos. These navigation pathways can be seen once the human atlas is selected.
3D human figure
The 3D human figure rotates 360 degrees and you are able to zoom in and out. You can choose to view the human body based on different systems, the below picture has the digestive system selected. If you want to show your patient the pancreas you can rotate this image 180 degrees. Other systems you can choose include circulatory, digestive, immune, muscular, nervous, respiratory, skeletal, and urinary. Although we like this function, we found the images available through the glossary to be more detailed and helpful for patient explanation. Also, when you maximize on the zoom the anatomy is not as clear. In a clinic setting it would be better to use the detailed pictures in explaining key anatomy, and then use the 3D figure to show how the anatomy is connected with the rest of the body.
The medical glossary can be accessed through an unnamed tab located on the right side when the Atlas is opened. The medical glossary has a search function and contains simple medical definitions as well as complex procedures. Our experiences with the glossary yielded mixed results. We liked how when we searched for “prostate”, the results show not only medical conditions (enlarged prostate, prostate cancer) but also show procedures (prostatectomy).
The results show related medical terms and videos. As you can see in the above picture, once a medical term is selected related pictures appear. Video results for the above search include a video on Prostate cancer and Prostate removal. However, when we searched for acute lymphocyte leukemia (ALL), only one image appeared, yet there is a nice video on ALL in the video library of this application. Overall, we found the medical glossary to be a great feature that usually delivered excellent detailed images and videos related to the topic of interest.
The images in this Human Atlas are very functional and definitely can be used in practice. Not only can anatomy be explained by using the pictures, but different pathologies can be explained as well. In the below picture showing prostate cancer, key anatomic structures related to the prostate are shown (bladder, urethra, seminal vesicle). You can also zoom in on these individual pictures.
The video section is where this application truly shines. Videos can be accessed not only through the glossary’s search results, but also through a separate video toolbar available when the Human Atlas is opened. WiFi, 3G, or EDGE is required to view the videos. The below picture shows a few of the video categories. The different categories are cancer, circulatory, digestive, ear, endocrine, eye, immune, muscular, nervous, pediatric, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal, skin, and urinary. All the main specialties are covered.
Within each category are a number of related videos that last approximately one to three minutes and include an audio explanation that is in sync with the video. In the circulatory section, video topics range from explaining heart bypass surgery to how the valves in your heart work. This type of diversity of topics is found in every video section. You can get a better idea of how the videos look in the following link provided by the company. Once your selected video ends, the application shows your related videos, definitions, and slides. You can see this in the below picture after viewing a video on appendicitis.
Quite simply, we found the videos available in the Human Atlas to be brilliant. Our colleagues and patients thought the same thing as well. Patients enjoyed the 3D animation and the simple explanations. The videos were successfully able to explain conditions such as GERD, osteoarthritis, and others to our patients. They are aesthetically pleasing and explain medical conditions in a laypersons’ terms. Eventually we would like to see an option for Spanish explanations to the videos. This would be invaluable because of the increasing Hispanic population.
The videos are especially useful for specialists who need to explain complex and simple concepts. An example of this is in the cancer video section, where there are videos explaining Cyberknife Radiosurgery and Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), but also great videos explaining less complex concepts, such as chemotherapy and biopsy procedures.
What we like about this App:
- A vast library of medical information
- Aesthetically pleasing 3D animation videos do a fantastic job of explaining medical conditions and procedures in laypersons’ terms to patients.
- Patients enjoy looking and listening to the concise videos.
- Pictures are very functional and show different pathologies
- The glossary contains definitions for procedures as well as basic medical terms.
- Every major specialty is targeted (cancer, circulatory, digestive, ear, endocrine, eye, immune, muscular, nervous, pediatric, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal, skin, and urinary)
What we don’t like as much, and improvements that could be made:
- Stand Alone videos. Our main concern is the inability to use this application without an Internet connection. WiFi, 3G, or EDGE are required to view the videos, pictures, and glossary. The advantage of streaming this information is you save storage space on your device, but we feel this application is too powerful and good to have this limitation. It’s worth sacrificing 200 or more megabytes of space on your phone.
- The ability to have a video explained in Spanish.
- Ability to bookmark images or videos used most often, or even making a playlist of videos for a certain type of patient.
- Currently the option to buy more detailed individual atlases does not work.
Who this application would be great for:
Every healthcare provider could find a use for this application. Primary care providers could use the videos and images to explain more commonplace conditions, such as GERD, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and more. Specialists and Surgeons could use the videos and images to explain complex procedures such as heart bypass surgery, Angiography, Roux-en-Y Gastric surgery, and more. Pediatricians can use this application to show parents the mechanism of allergies and how ear infections occur. With the vast amount of information available, almost every provider can find some way to use this application.
*Note, The application’s full features can only be used with an Internet connection (WiFi, 3g, or EDGE).
After a few days of using the 2.0 version of the Blausen Human Atlas application, we feel it’s a must have for healthcare providers and well worth the $19.99 price tag, especially since it can be used on a daily basis. It’s easy to use, provides an enormous amount of information, and most importantly, does a great job of helping you explain relevant medical information to patients through pictures and short concise videos. Often times, diagrams and posters in the patient’s room are inadequate in explaining key concepts, but this application is the solution to this problem. The 3D video animation is what makes this a must have application. If used correctly, we feel the videos can not only be used to explain medical knowledge, but also help save time. The videos could be shown to patients while they are waiting to see their provider, enabling the patient to have a better understanding of the medical concept or procedure before the doctor even walks into the room. This would increase patient satisfaction as well, especially if your practice has long waiting times.
As we mentioned above, our main complaint with this application is the inability to use it without an Internet connection. If you only have EDGE available the videos lag, which is not an ideal experience. Having the videos included in the application would increase the storage space required on your iPhone or iPod Touch, but the loss in storage space would be well worth it. If you have a WiFi connection or dedicated 3G connection in your health care setting, then this application is a must-have. We look forward to the future innovations that this application is likely to bring to the healthcare field.