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At Boston Children's Hospital, a prototype mobile app delivers medical info directly to patients

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 4, 2013 11:30 AM

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Here's an amazing app that I hope you never need to use...

Boston Children's Hospital has been pilot-testing an iPad app this spring called MyPassport. It's designed to give patients and their families more information about what's going on during their stay, from the doctors and nurses assigned to them to the results of their lab tests. It also lets them submit questions they have, and get them answered quickly by their docs.

Hiep Nguyen, right, a urologist at the hospital, led the development of the app, relying on software development resources from the Fasttrack Innovation in Technology team at Children's. When the hospital fielded surveys and conducted focus groups, Nguyen explains, some families of patients reported that they "felt disconnected from their providers," especially when English wasn't their first language. "In some cases, they didn't know who some of their doctors were." Among the goals for the app were to provide a "better awareness of tests being done, who their providers are, and what the discharge criteria are" — in other words, what needs to happen in order for them to be released. The app also "helps them organize questions they might have, and get answers before that day's rounds at 3 p.m.," Nguyen adds.

Test results show up not as abstract numbers, but along a spectrum of blue, green, or red. (Red being worrisome.)

My-Passport-labs.jpgThe app interfaces with two different electronic medical records systems used at Children's, as well as the hospital's security database, which supplies photos of all of the docs and nurses. The app also includes pictures of the patient and his or her family, which can be helpful as a reference for harried docs trying to keep their patients straight, Nguyen says. The app replaces a binder full of paper that patients ordinarily receive, which is quite labor-intensive to assemble and maintain.

The initial version of the app was loaded onto a loaner iPad, and tested by about 30 patients. A version rolling out now can be used on a patient's own iPhone or Android device. That will enable patients to see their discharge instructions on the app, as well as information about future appointments.

Nguyen says the next steps for the project are to create foreign language versions of MyPassport — most likely in Spanish and Creole — since the families that report the lowest satisfaction with their experience at Children's tend to be non-English speakers, according to hospital surveys.

And MyPassport could also develop into a company funded by investors, Nguyen says. Though he doesn't have time to commercialize the product himself, "My greatest happiness would be to see this being used by many, many patients."

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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