Dr. Iltifat Husain’s physician take is at the end of this article

“It’s like having an electronic library at your fingertips” explains Lee Umphrey, CEO of the Harrington Family Health Center, which serves some of the poorest, sickest residents in Harrington, Maine, a small coastal community in Washington County. He was referring to the dozens of apps his clinicians have recently begun using to manage their high risk patient population. The digital library, which was featured in a recent Portland Press Herald article, includes searchable medical encyclopedias, a dose calculator and pill identifier, as well as a symptom checker and drug interactions database.

Umphrey’s healthcare team is now able to access these online tools through tablets provided by Health eVillages, a non-profit organization spearheaded by Donato Tramuto, the CEO of the Physicians Initiative, a Massachusetts-based group that develops mobile medical apps. Tramuto’s organization has brought mobile technology to several underserved rural communities, having launched projects in Haiti, East Africa, and India. Its first American project targeted the Louisiana coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Each community that benefits from Health eVillages‘s generosity receives a tablet loaded with several basic medical apps; the tablets are then tailored to meet the needs of each community. In Louisiana, that included dermatology apps because so many of the local residents were suffering from skin conditions from being exposed to contaminated water. In Harrington, Maine, the tablets have additional apps for diabetes care.

Tramuto is among a relatively small group of forward thinkers who are trying to convince the medical establishment of the value of mobile medical apps. Sara Donevant, a registered nurse with an interest in mobile technology, points out that “Actually, (mobile apps are) not widely used anywhere, unfortunately. It’s still a relatively untapped resource, if you will.” Part of the reason for their underuse, says Donevant, is the fact that there are so many apps to choose from and too little data to help medical providers make informed choices or determine the quality of medical apps.

Dr. Iltifat Husain’s take:

This is a great example of how medical apps can tremendously help those in underserved areas with inadequate resources. We forget that underserved areas also have health providers who have limited access to digital medicine resources. While a large health organization can provide all of their health providers access to journal articles, UpToDate, and a slew of other expensive medical reference tools, those in underserved areas often don’t have this same access. These simple reference tools have the potential to completely change the way health providers treat patients.

rural health apps