March 21, 2014 5:23 am
Updated: March 21, 2014 7:20 pm

New smartphone app could reduce wait times for patients

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HALIFAX – A Halifax doctor is working on a new app to reduce waiting times for hip and knee replacement patients.

Dr. Michael Dunbar is an orthopaedic surgeon who is dissatisfied with the province’s long waiting times.

“We see a lot of patients waiting a long time to see us and a lot of patients, when they get here, are often told they didn’t need to see us,” he said.

The situation doesn’t become any better after patients undergo surgery.

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“It’s often necessary to bring them back, to interview them, look at their x-rays. So they can come back every year, year and year, and that uses a tremendous amount of resources,” he said.

It’s a situation Coline Damczyk knows all too well.

The Fall River woman had both knees replaced within a few years.

While she’s grateful for the improvement to her life, she admits the doctor visits can be arduous process.

“From where I live, it’s about three hours of your time gone because of the travel in, finding a parking spot, time in the reception, time in the office, time to get out of the Halifax office to get back home,” she said.

This particular experience of patients is the reason Dunbar is developing an app that can be downloaded on the smartphone called the gait monitoring system. Gait is the pattern of movement of limbs.

Using technology that is already in the smartphone, the app will help monitor body movements.

“This is a way of taking of taking our knowledge of what we see when we see our patients directly and putting it into a remote, reliable computer based fashion that we can follow without having to see the patient,” Dunbar said.

The app would monitor a patient’s centre of mass displacement, which can detect whether something is amiss post-surgery.

“Instead of me calling you back once a year after your hip replacement or your knee replacement, I would just send you a text once a year saying, ‘Turn this device on. Put it on your back. Go for a walk. Push a button.’. When you push a button, it will send [data] to us. We will analyze that signal, compare it to your previous one and send you a text back whether you need to see us,” Dunbar said.

“They can give us real time, evidence based, patient specific outcomes directly from their home.”

The surgeon is hopeful it will bring radical change to the healthcare system in terms of reducing wait times for patients and streamlining work for doctors.

“We have a tremendous opportunity in this province. We have some very serious challenges with respect to accessing healthcare. We have an older population. We have a lot of disease morbidity,” he said.

“Instead of everybody coming centrally to the big hospitals. Let’s keep them in their community. It’s better for the patients. I should have more time to see patients who really need to see me, who really need my expertise in a certain area.”

Patients like Damczyk say anything that makes the process easier for patients is a good thing.

“I think it would be wonderful to have anything that would cut down on the time you waste parking, traveling and waiting.”

The app could also be used to help cardiac, stroke and spinal cord patients.

The app is still in the development phase but Dunbar is hopeful it will be tested soon.

Dunbar said 100 people will be recruited from the Halifax to try the app.

It would be downloaded for a cost, with proceeds funneling back into the province’s healthcare system.

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