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Can iPhone Apps Help EMS Providers Save Lives?

ALS on the iPhoneWith the year 2011 almost here, it’s no surprise that many of the old spiral-bound pocketbooks — the ones medics have traditionally carried for years — now have mobile digital versions. But can these new digital guides replace their tried-and-true analog counterparts? This week, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of new medical field guides on the iPhone for EMS providers.

Just like the pocket reference books, the information in these apps is presented in short, pointed style, meant to cue an EMS provider into their training. Being digital, these apps also have quick keyword search capability — something you won’t find on a spiral-bound guide — and a bookmarking feature. You can even take notes down on pages just as you would with a paper guide.

Another potential benefit is the ability to keep medical guides refreshed with up-to-date information as it becomes available (especially with subjects like prescription drugs) for free rather than purchasing new editions of the same book each time there is a new publication. Likewise, a near-infinite number of medical reference guides covering every topic can be stored in less space than a single spiral-bound guide — making it easy to carry an almost limitless amount of portable medical and instructional reference in a flightsuit.

There are some drawbacks — for instance, an EMS guide app obviously relies fully on the power of the iPhone’s battery. In the case of air ambulance transports, the iPhone must be charged to last the duration of the transport. This is not as much of a concern as it would have been a few years back. The iPhone 4′s standard-issue battery claims a standby time of up to 300 hours — when fully charged.

Another apparent drawback compared to the old spiral-bound pocket reference would be the fact that the EMS guide is reliant on a relatively fragile electronic device. However, the fragility of devices with large screens like the iPhone typically drives owners to store them in a protective cases made of hardy, shock-absorbent material. Thus, an iPhone is often the most well-protected “part” of a person’s body, and could certainly survive repeated air transports.

Perhaps the best benefit over the older guides is that the information is always there as long as you have your phone, which many people in the medical field carry with them at all times anyway. It is worth nothing that while these guides retail to the general public, different guides are available for different levels of medical proficiency. Informed sells EMS field guides for the iPhone in both BLS (Basic & Intermediate Life Support) and ALS (Advanced Life Support) editions.

At this point, medical apps like these will likely be of most use to emergency care providers en route to the scene or to the hospital, but we can expect to see more advances based around mobile devices in the next few years, as well as more medical information in the hands of the public. One interesting and potentially life-saving feature of the electronic EMS field guide for the average citizen with little to no medical training is the built-in ability to call the nearest poison control center with one “touch” of their finger while looking up information about poisoning.

There are many medical iPhone apps available for healthcare providers — EMS field guides, medical dictionaries, drug guides, calculators, and more. Do you have any medical apps on your phone?

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