Researchers recently examined the potential a new medical app may have in medical training and learning. The report was published in Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology titled “Interactive iPhone/iPad App for Increased Tympanic Membrane Familiarity” by Sheena Samar, MD et al. The purpose of the study is to introduce the Buckingham Virtual Tympanum iPhone app — a free interactive app that teaches the anatomical details of the tympanic membrane (TM) with “real-life” photographs.

Medical students and educators are already using smartphones and tablets as instructional tools. There are even medical apps that “gamify” the learning process.

A small sample of 7 students in their third year of medical school with 14 students as a control sample participated over an eight-week period in the study. They were given access to the Buckingham Virtual Tympanum iPhone app which uses a collection of TM photographs taken with an operating microscope and a series of problem-based questions to familiarize them with inner-ear structure and abnormalities.

The traditional study of the tympanic membrane involves an in-person examination with an otoscope or microscope as the instructor and trainee switch off. Things can get very busy in a clinic and microscopes equipped with teaching instruments, like a teaching arm or pointers, might not be available.

With all of the variables of physical exams, a standardized method of instruction for the TM is valuable — and the study shows good results. The study found the minutes spent viewing the images on the mobile app was strongly positively correlated with improved test scores

Even though the study did not compare studying the app to studying via textbooks (traditional method of learning) and 8 people left the study (the original sample was 15), the results are encouraging for future educational medical apps.

App Featured in the study: Buckingham Virtual Tympanum
Price: Free
Links: iOS (iPhone, iPad), Android (not available)

buckingham virtual tympanum app