Take a trip down your trachea

After a medical exam of the future, patients will not only be sent home with prescriptions. They’ll also leave the office with an assignment: download apps.

“We envision a world where doctors actually prescribe applications with drugs and with other treatments,” Matt Berry, founder and CEO of Orca Health said.

Orca Health is a one-year-old company with 10 medical applications for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch already under its belt. This week, Orca launched its latest, ENTDecide. The app describes conditions and symptoms that affect the ear, nose and throat, and — most appealing to both doctors and patients — it offers visual explanations through videos, beautiful 3D imagery and augmented reality.

“You can actually touch and explore your whole anatomy,” Berry said, explaining that patients can use their fingers to virtually travel down the trachea on a tablet.

The company’s inspiration came from Berry’s dad who is a spine surgeon. He complained that he didn’t have enough time to teach patients all they needed to know about their conditions. To help his dad better educate his patients, Berry created SpineDecide and then five other orthopedic apps quickly followed. Since Orca’s debut in September 2010, one of its most popular apps is called EyeDecide, an app that allows patients to see 360-degree visuals of cataracts, floaters, age-related macular degeneration and more.

Educational apps like these are important because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will increasingly hold medical facilities accountable for ensuring successful recovery after treatments. Physicians will have to better engage patients in their own health to see better outcomes.

Fortunately, consumers indicate that they’re willing to become more engaged when they can use tools like Orca apps.

Another health startup has observed this, too. Like Orca, JiffPad turns the iPad into an at-home medical teaching tool. During visits, doctors can record their patients’ questions as well as their own explanations and then send these files along with medical illustrations to their patients’ email to be replayed at home. The goal is to ensure that majority of the information given during the visit isn’t lost or forgotten when the patient walks out the door.

When put to a popular vote at this Fall’s DC to VC, an American Idol-style competition for health startups, JiffPad was found to be the crowd favorite.

The people have also spoken for Orca Health. The company demoed ENTDecide at Health 2.0 Europe‘s Launch! segment, a competition that decides the best new Health 2.0 product based on audience vote.

Orca Health has good potential for widespread adoption; not only are patients already indicating that they want to use it, but in the future, doctors will likely realize that it’s important that patients do. Sixty thousand apps have already been downloaded, and the company expects to hit 100,000 downloads early next year. Forty-five percent of Orca downloads come from overseas, and some of the apps are already available in eight languages. Orca will soon come out with apps for Android devices, Berry said.

Up next for Orca? A heart app called Aging Heart that lets patients simulate what certain inputs can do to the heart over time. Berry said with future apps, the company will take advantage of one of the iPad’s strong suits ― its gaming capabilities.

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