Upstate physician creates apps as healthcare management tools
Joshua Steinberg, MD, knows how difficult it can be for generalist physicians to take care of patients at every stage of life. “These days, there’s a new paradigm—you can’t possibly know everything you need to know. Luckily, we can develop strategies to have extra information at our fingertips the moment we need it,” said Dr. Steinberg, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at Upstate Medical University’s Binghamton Clinical Campus.
To meet this need, Dr. Steinberg, in collaboration with members of the Computer Science Department at SUNY Binghamtom, created a point-of-care software system for the iPhone to help physicians provide care and to train students and medical residents. Dr. Steinberg and his team rolled out their first iPhone application in June 2010 and since then, have created seven more applications.
“A computer science student programmed the software code and I filled in the medical content,” Dr. Steinberg said. While Dr. Steinberg is not much of a computer programmer, he has found ways to extend what the computer scientists created and use it in different ways.
“I’ve learned to read the code, take it apart and then build it back together,” said Dr. Steinberg. “I use the pieces to make several more apps and just change the content. It would be truly difficult to do anything from scratch.”
Each app provides interactive guidance for managing a certain medical condition or disease. Apps include a range of therapeutic topics from pre-operative evaluation to pneumonia treatment. The software is free for all iPhone/iPad users worldwide.
“This is my hobby. As an educator, as well as a doctor, I want to help doctors do good work without charging money for it,” Dr. Steinberg said.
When filling in content for the apps, Dr. Steinberg refers not to his medical knowledge but to information from other evidence-based sources. “Basing content off information that’s available to everyone is another reason the apps are free of charge,” Dr. Steinberg said.
“I copyright what I’ve done because I brought these ideas together and I produced it, but I don’t want anyone to pretend I’m an expert or that it’s my intellectual property,” Dr. Steinberg said.
Dr. Steinberg considers three criteria when developing an app—a question that comes up frequently in patient care, an issue that is too complex to memorize, and a topic that is so high-stakes that a doctor shouldn’t guess at the answer.
Dr. Steinberg often develops these tools when there’s no information on a topic and when there’s a need for something better or broader. While many apps offer information, his apps tend to have an educational slant. “They frequently walk a user through a thinking process to pose questions and arrive at answers,” he said.
Dr. Steinberg’s ABG Acid-Base Evaluation App, for example, provides users with a step-by-step process for an arterial blood gas (ABG) test, a common medical procedure that measures the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood to determine how well lungs are working.
“There are other ABG apps out there, but they just accept lab numbers and give results without the user learning from it. The advantage with my app is it engages the user to learn while quickly getting the answers,” Dr. Steinberg said.
There are currently eight apps listed under Dr. Steinberg’s name on Apple iTunes. Dr. Steinberg is now working with family medicine residents at Upstate’s Binghamton campus to develop apps as part of their scholarly projects. This year’s residents have four apps in development.
Caption: Joshua Steinberg MD, left, clinical professor of Family Medicine, discusses medical apps with Edward Grove, medical student at Upstate’s Binghamton campus.