By: Dr. Michael Kerr
What is it?
Clearpath is a dermatopathology atlas and examination app. It’s gorgeous, has a very specific target audience, and is somewhat limited in functionality. It has the potential to be a fantastic reference for aspiring dermatologists and pathologists, though it’s not quite there yet.
What does it do?
The premise behind the app is that, “learning dermatopathology requires repeated exposure to new slide cases and images”. The main meat to the app is the dermatology atlas. There’s a library of online slides of conditions which can highlight some of the key findings, and allows the user to annotate notes.
The app is beautiful. From the outset, you can appreciate that significant time has been spent on the design. From the main screen above, you can clearly see the main sections. There’s a nice slider menu for choosing your flavor of disease–most of which would win a game of scrabble in a single move. The options on the right let you view the disease highlights or go straight to the virtual microscope view.
Looking at the highlights section, the user is presented with an overview of a few of the slide’s most important features. Each of these features opens a slide, where you can then highlight the pertinent features by pressing on the highlighted text. I must emphasize that there’s usually only 2-4 points made in each section, which I figure will somewhat limit the use of this app as a revision tool.
However, the main purpose of the app is that of a visual learning aid, rather than a text heavy reference. I can’t imagine anyone actually using the annotate function. Any text you enter isn’t visible until you click on the annotate button again.
Another cool feature is the virtual microscope. It’s pretty much just a high resolution image of a slide. There’s a little perspective box to show where you are on the slide while zoomed in. You can use the zoom slider, or pinch to zoom. It’s pretty smooth on my iPad 3. The zoom level is a bit misleading, as once you get to around “8x” zoom, the detail doesn’t change from there to “40x”, the image just gets blurrier. The screenshots below will give you a better idea of this.
One of the frustrating issues with the app is that it requires an internet connection to download the images as you browse them. People with slow connections will be punished for being cheapskates. People using mobile data will feel the angry wrath of the 3G/4G gods. As a rough guide, each section in the index seems to range from 5Mb up to 60Mb. There is an option in the main page to download the images, so it’s possible to do so at home.
There’s a glossary section which doesn’t seem to be working properly yet. Choosing something from the list only shows the text explanation, and no slide or image. Given that this is primarily focused on being an atlas, an image with the text would be ideal. It seems as though this is either a bug, or something that’s planning on being implemented. The only other explanation that I can think of is that it’s a result of the programming of the app, and that a text only glossary would have required a redesign.
There’s not a huge amount of content in here, though I expect that this is going to be expanded. One of the most significant features is the search function, which is available from the main index of slides. Particularly if you were going to be using it as a glossary, you’d be opening the section with the intent of looking for something specific.
Finally there’s the test function. It’s again limited by the amount of content currently available. You’re presented with a bunch of slides, and have a limited amount of time to make a diagnosis, and at the end you get an overview of what you got right and wrong. As you can see, I’m not much of a histopathologist. You have a few options available to you to change the number and amount of time you have to answer.
- Gorgeous design
- Intuitive to use
- Can’t argue with the price
Dislikes / what could be better:
- Only one set of images per disease / entry
- Limited content
- Limited zoom function beyond 16x
- No search function in the glossary section
- Glossary has no images, not sure if this is a bug or not
- I think this app has potential to be a big fish in a small pond. The foundation is there, and a few tweaks and more content would make the app far more usable. The most glaring omission is the premise that the app is founded on, that learning in this field requires viewing of multiple slides.
- However, in its current form, each entry only has one or two slides to view. If I was a dermatology or pathology registrar / resident, it would make much more sense to do a quick google image search or use an online database than to load up this app. If the developers added more content, like many of the other medical atlases, it would be far more enticing.
- The glossary and test functions seem more of a novelty in their current form, and I can’t imagine ever going back to them after trying them once, there’s just no value to a time-strapped doctor wanting to learn something efficiently.
- So long as the app remains free, I would recommend it to anyone. However, if the developers started charging for it in its current form, I would be hard pressed to give it the tick of approval.