There's an App for That

When patients are about to have surgery, they typically have lots of questions: what will be removed from where, what gets sewn up and how. Urologic surgeon Alexander Kutikov shares his previous method for answering those questions: "I'd draw stick figures on the paper on the exam table," he says. "My pen would go through the paper and make holes and I'd think, there's got to be a better way."

Kutikov and his roommate from Harvard Medical School, fellow urologist Todd Morgan, had already built an online community for young urologists—urologymatch.com—and a common topic of conversation there was how difficult it can be to communicate effectively with patients. “There are all kinds of limitations and barriers, including time constraints and the complexity of the subject matter,” Kutikov says. “When hospitals institute efficiency measures, it’s inadvertent, but the patient typically loses out on ‘face time’ with the physician. Our idea was to think outside the box and figure out a way to improve that interaction.”

So Kutikov and Morgan went to their web developers with a question. “The iPad platform was coming out at the time. We asked them, ‘Can we put a simple app together that shows basic kidney anatomy, the ureter, the bladder, and then put, say, a kidney stone on it—and be able to blow it up or shrink it?’”

The answer was yes. The resulting application was designed specifically for urology, and once introduced online at the Apple Store, the free download “went like hotcakes,” Kutikov says. The software—called DrawMD—shows a human form with basic anatomical structures and allows the surgeon to drag and drop relevant items—cysts, tumors, stones, catheters—to illustrate how surgery will proceed. Kutikov and Morgan have since expanded the project’s catalog to include other specialties, including cardiology and orthopedics.

“We think we’ve stumbled on something important,” Kutikov says. “It’s really changed my practice. I don’t spend the whole time sketching and explaining where the prostate is. I can move on to more important things, like what to expect after surgery.”

And the response from patients has been tremendous. “They love it,” Kutikov says. “One thing the iPad affords is that instead of sitting at a computer, you sit shoulder to shoulder with the patient. The medium is clear, it’s colorful, and patients can point or even draw an arrow themselves to what they have questions about. They become engaged in the process.”