Voice-enabled medical search iPhone app speeds inquiries

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

As smartphones and tablet computers infiltrate medical operations, doctors are finding new applications to provide shortcuts for their busy work days. That includes a new voice-enabled medical search app for the iPhone announced by Nuance Communications.

Dr. Jon Wahrenberger, a cardiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., said he began using the new Dragon Medical Mobile Search App from Nuance on his iPhone 4 earlier this week after two months using a beta version. The app is free for a limited time.

After dictating a medical term into his smartphone, such as “naproxin,” the app finds information over the Web from sources such as Drugs.mobi, IMO, Medline, MedScape and Google. The process takes about four seconds, and is quicker and simpler than typing in a complex term, Wahrenberger said in an interview.

He has also tried a similar consumer-focused mobile voice search tool, but the medical version is able to produce results more focused on doctors’ needs. There are tens of thousands of drugs and diseases for which doctors need quick access to information.

“It’s been a great little tool to have,” he said. “The beauty of the app is the speed with which you launch it, speak a term and get results from a drug database or about medical nomenclature. It’s particularly helpful looking up drugs or catching up on pharmacology.”

Seeing up to 30 patients a day means that having such a shortcut becomes valuable. “It might take half a minute to type ‘pulmonary hypertension,’ but I can say it in a second,” he said. “And it doesn’t tax your fingers or hands.”

Wahrenberger said he doesn’t like to carry a laptop into patient visits because it seems disruptive, but he has found the iPhone more discreet and his patients are glad he is checking a resource instead of working from memory. “Patients actually love it when they see you are looking something up and they know you care and don’t want to get it wrong,” he said.

Wahrenberger teaches his medical students that “you can’t know everything because medicine is so vast, so you have to know some basic things to make a quick response and beyond the basics you need to know how to find information.”

Wahrenberger has also been using Dragon Naturally Speaking, a voice-to-text tool used on a desktop, to dictate his patient notes for eight years, so he is well-versed in speaking carefully to get accurate results. Dragon Naturally Speaking for doctors has gone from “acceptable to phenomenal with accuracy,” he said, noting he still runs into accuracy errors, but rarely.

With the new mobile search tool he said he has learned to be patient before speaking once launching it from his home screen. Otherwise, it may cut off his first spoken word.

Wahrenberger said he is finding doctors in his medical center using iPhones and iPads because they see the value of easily documenting patient exams into electronic records and then interacting with the electronic records. With the recent ability to connect iPhones and iPads to a Microsoft Exchange Server, “people are loving this,” he said.

He said he wants to see the mobile search app maximized for the iPad as well. Nuance said it has plans for the mobile search app on the iPad, but has not released a timeline.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt’s RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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