When Samuel Merritt University (SMU) student Christopher Balkissoon has a patient suffering from cardiovascular disease, he takes out his iPad and hits the play button on an animated, three-dimensional image of a beating heart.
By communicating visually rather than just relying on medical jargon, Balkissoon is able to help the patient better understand their condition and then discuss pharmacological and surgical solutions.
“Patients want to know more,” says Balkissoon, a second-year student in SMU’s Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program. “The most frustrating thing to hear is patients who are taking all of these medications and they don’t know why they’re on them. That doesn’t allow patients to take control of their health problems.”
Up until now, clinicians have not been known for doing a good job of conveying complex health information to patients. Technology is changing that.
SMU students like Balkissoon who work in clinics are increasingly using mobile applications that they can access quickly on their tablets or smartphones to diagnose, treat and educate patients.
To discuss treatment options for heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States — Balkissoon uses HeartDecide by Orca Health. The app provides a moving image of plaque growing in the arteries to the heart and slowly blocking blood flow. For patients with broken bones, he clicks on Essential Skeleton by 3D4Medical to pinpoint the patient’s problem through a three-dimensional model that can be rotated to any angle.
“We’re responsible for teaching patients what’s going on so their health will improve,” he says.
Electronic tools are particularly important for practitioners in communities where poverty is often a stumbling block to better health. At the Native American Health Center in East Oakland, where Balkissoon is currently working on a four-month clinical rotation, he and his colleagues have to think outside the box to help improve the health of their uninsured and low-income patients.
To make medications more affordable, they use the app GoodRX to find the lowest prices for prescription drugs as well as coupons and pharmacy discounts. Also, because some of the patients at community clinics like the Native American Health Center don’t speak English, student clinicians rely on medical translation applications such as Canopy Translator to better connect with their patients.
Other electronic resources used by SMU students include:
• UpToDate®, a peer-reviewed database of clinical recommendations, diagnostic criteria and treatment guidelines. The SMU library provides free online access to the database for SMU students.
• Bugs + Drugs by Epocrates informs medical providers which types of bacteria are more prevalent in specific locations, enabling them to decide which antibiotics to prescribe to prevent any bacterial resistance.
• ASCVD Risk Estimator is an online tool that helps evaluate the risk for cardiac disease based patients’ age, race, cholesterol levels, and whether they are smokers or have diabetes. It helps determine whether patients should be on medication to decrease their risk.
Relying on technology is enabling clinicians to more effectively emphasize health promotion and disease prevention, core responsibilities of medical practitioners like FNPs.
“If you’re not teaching your patient, then you’re not a family nurse practitioner,” says Balkissoon.