Saturday, October 08, 2011

Where's the beef? (Musings on 2 transfusion-related iPad apps)

Where's the beef? is a follow up to an earlier blog, Tough Titty and other iPad apps (Musing on 'revolutionary' apps for TM; Jan. 2011). The title derives from a TV advertisement initially shown in 1984.

A second blog on iPads was inevitable when I finally caved and got one last month after much pondering of the question, "What does an iPad do and why would you want one?" My answer comes at the end of the blog.

So, 18 month after the launch of the iPad in April 2010, how many transfusion-related apps exist for it and similar devices (Blackberry, iPhone, other tablets)? Unfortunately, not many judging by a quick scan of Apple's iTunes app store.

Number of iPad / iPhone apps:
  • Total: 140,000+
  • Medical: 100s if not 1000+
  • Transfusion-related (in the broadest sense): 10-15
  • Transfusion-related for TM professionals: ~4
Disappointing, but not surprising: Transfusion-related apps for the public (as opposed to transfusion professionals) predominate. Examples (all costs in US $):
A few thoughts on two free TM apps for transfusion professionals:

#1. Transfuse (Mayo Clinic)

Although not a physician, I tried a few clinical scenarios and did okay compared to others who had played (could be anyone). For one scenario I made no choices and pressed the Next button for everything and scored close to the others who had tried it. Hmmmm.....
Pros: Interactive; nice graphics
  • Choosing the number of units to transfuse from a list of blood components and drugs soon becomes repetitive.
  • Ditto for the laboratory / physiologic thresholds to transfuse a particular blood component.
  • Minimal feedback except for comparison to the score of others.
    Bottom line: Having been interested in computer-assisted learning (archaic term) for decades, I find apps like Transfuse to have the same fatal flaws as earlier e-learning efforts:
    • Inflexible, repetitive, and borrrring
    Apps is a sexier term than computer-assisted but cannot compensate for intrinsic flaws in learning design. Educational tools like Transfuse are suited to convey basic learning such as knowledge and application, but more of a challenge for higher level skills such as analysis and evaluation.

    Because it's an iPad app from the famed Mayo Clinic, and one of the first apps for TM, Transfuse has glitz but does not quite deliver, at least by my educational standards.

    As an e-learning tool, it ranks near the more primitive end of the spectrum - a fancy package that may leave users asking, "Where's the beef?"

    I would love to hear from others who have used Transfuse but
    #2. IVIG Guidelines & Calculator (ORBCoN, Transfusion Ontario)
    Initially developed for smartphones, ORBCoN's IVIG app is lean and mean, i.e., has no unnecessary elements. The interface is attractive with easy navigation.

    The app's purpose is to make IVIV guidelines easily accessible at the bedside and in patient care areas since access to a PC on a clinical ward is generally limited and docs use smartphones.

    The ORBCoN app is a handy reference tool for IVIG guidelines and dose calculations that comes without pretensions and delivers on its promise.

    Bottom line: Keeping with a meat analogy, the IVIG app is more like lean turkey than a fatty beef patty in a fast-food burger.
    • Definitely 'Good vibrations' (Beach Boys 1966 classic)
    • #6 on Rolling Stone magazine's "500 greatest songs of all time"
    1. Many medical apps exist for the iPad and similar devices, but when it comes to apps for transfusion professionals, the shelves are almost bare.

    2. The paucity of TM apps makes sense. Transfusion medicine is a relatively small field that barely finds time in the medical curriculum, despite the fact that many physicians prescribe transfusions.

    3. To produce worthwhile educational apps is costly. It requires a team of subject matter experts, experienced educators and instructional designers, graphic designers, IT professionals, and representative users. That's just to develop a basic prototype, to say nothing of piloting, evaluating, revising, etc.

    4. Stand-alone educational tools must be much better designed for clarity than face to face learning where a user's questions can be answered immediately.

    5. Given today's health care funding, funds for even basic professional development such as attending conferences has all but disappeared. Transfusion-related tablet and smartphone apps are a stretch even if they support (i) cost saving and (ii) patient safety initiatives such as improved blood product utilization (or 'blood management', the preferred term of the TM consultants).

    6. Accordingly, many transfusion-related apps are meant for the general public where expectations are minimal. Indeed, current apps tend towards the nutball territory of how your ABO blood group can affect personality and diet.

    "What does an iPad do and why would you want one?"

    What does an iPad do?

    Initial reaction to the iPad ranged from "a product without a use" to embarrassing fawning over the latest addition to Apple's family. I fell into the skeptical first camp.

    Now that I have one, the iPad allows me to check my twitter feeds and the latest news much more quickly than turning on desktop or laptop computers. It's oh so EASY.

    Best of all, producing videos is an absolute snap. Touch the camera icon, slide option to 'video', select which camera to use (front or back), frame your subject, touch the start/stop video button (and again to end recording). Four screen touches in <4 seconds and you can create a crystal clear video.

    Recently I used the iPad to videotape a group of apartment-bound seniors giving messages to a friend in hospital and then showed them her videotaped response from her hospital bed. Priceless!

    Why would you want one?

    Frankly, I bought an iPad on intuition without knowing the answer, but now it's clear. The gadget is FUN. Pure and simple fun. That it speeds up tasks I used to do anyway is a value-added goodie.


    Thanks to the Mayo Clinic and ORBCoN -Transfusion Ontario for offering their TM apps free of charge. Such generous sharing is much appreciated.

    And here's to you, Mr. Jobs. Autocratic egomaniac, visionary, genius? Probably.....
    P.S. I love my iPod nano too....

    Other TM Apps
    As always, the views are mine alone. Comments are most welcome BUT, due to excessive spam, please e-mail me personally or use the address in the newsletter notice.