Monday, July 9, 2012

Assistiveware and iOS combine to help patients with disabilities

This is one from the archives, written a few months after the iPad was released.  I needed a few permissions before posting, but after getting them, I forgot to hit PUBLISH.  So here is an old story that I hope will encourage many to see iOS devices in a different light. 

AssistiveWare has created a series of software platforms for use on all iOS devices called Proloquo2go.  If you are not versed in what this company does, then let me explain the advantages that this company has just produced for a vast majority of people.

Previous example of an early stand alone assistive device.

Stroke victims, patients who have communicative disorders, spinal cord injuries, congenital disorders and many of whom are wheelchair bound have difficulty in communicating with the public.  Basic needs that we - the ambulatory and vocal -  take for granted are difficult for these patients - especially children with developmental and physical disorders.  Take the concept of saying "Yes" for example.  For us, it is easy to open our mouths, nod our heads, raise a hand with a thumb gesture etc.  But for the paralyzed and those who cannot speak or comprehend fully this is not possible.  This is especially true in children with developmental disorders.  This is where assistive devices come into play.  The main drawback to many of these devices is the cost, which can be quite prohibitive.  (The cost link will take you to the planning stages, while the Prohibitive link will take you to an actual cost center chart for such devices in a nursing home environment).

Enter Assistiveware.  This company uses iOs devices to produce software that is intuitive to people in need.  As the pictures from their website show, the software is quite similar to other stand-alone devices costing thousands of dollars. 

For patients with disabilities, the device + software has been reduced by as much as 1/3rd. For example if we look at the Software (which is not cheap, but available on iTunes for $189.99 and the iPad hardware at $499.99) for just under $700 one can get an Assistive Device that has other features built in.  Not to mention that in a family setting, the device can double as an entertainment device as well.  In addition to this, let us not forget that if you own a copy on your iPad, you also own a copy on your iPhone/iPod Touch.  Thus the software can be taken everywhere and transported to other handheld devices.

This would also be a great tool in a Doctor's office for patients who cannot communicate well.  It could serve as an entry point, even for patients who speak a different language. But more importantly, it serves as a wonderful conduit for people with disabilities, particularly children who are struggling to communicate.  Another fantastic deployment of the iPad, whose mere existence was questioned back in february.

*Some images used are taken from with permision.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Magnificent 7: A brief look at Jack Of All Trades Software....

HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus e-All-in-One CM750A#B1H


Software  is the bane of our existence on our Smart phones.  It is what separates one phone from another.  But Software is nothing if all it represents is a way to make money for the developer and to have the user engage in mindless banter.   As a Physician, I am often looking for simpler ways to do things  - Recalling trivial facts, important formulas, dosages of medications in age specific populations etc.  In the past I used my Palm Pilot, but the iPhone (and for that matter, the Droid and other Smart phones) has set the bar so high that it is a wonder how I ever lived without the device. From work to play, the smart phone, and for the sake of simplicity I'll constantly refer to the iPhone since it created the genre (yes, you could argue Palm),  we have all been transformed, changing the way that we do things, from looking up directions to asking questions.  

But outside of this I look for medical reasons to use this device as well.  That's where things get a little more difficult.  A lot of so called Medical Apps are "Health" Apps, oriented towards patients.  Some of the Medical Apps are still rudimentary first generation Apps, transported from Palm to the iPhone.  For example iSilo hasn't really changed since its Palm days.  A few Apps have been a bit more innovative, but require a major leap of faith due to cost.  $50-$90 is a large leap of faith for an App.

And then there are the Apps that are not really medical, but can be used in a myriad of situations.   I love these Apps the most and I call these the "Jack-of-all-trades" Apps.  Here is a listing of my newly cloned Magnificent 7:  Jack of all trades apps:

Say Hi 

 This, to date, is the most innovative and impressive App for language translation that I have ever seen.   I discovered it completely by accident, looking for something else.  Say Hi is an App that has an interesting twist.  Instead of typing your phrase in English, you speak your phrase into the microphone and watch as the dictation comes up in near perfect English and the translation to whatever language you choose occurs simultaneously.

The dictation element is smartly handled by Nuance, while the translation is done by the company.  And I have to tell you it is very accurate.  In response to a question that I asked recently, I was told by a company representative that the company has developed its own "sauce" for the translations so you are not looking at a clone of Google Translate.  In terms of accuracy, I cannot believe it.  I would say easily 99% most of the time and 95% for a brief period.   It even understands Medical Spanish.   And yes, "Dos Cervezas por favor," was easily translated to English, making it a perfect travel App as well :).

iPhone Screenshot 4I wrote about this App earlier.  A real game changer that will transform the way many simple Apps are made and distributed.  I do not think that it will challenge the official App store in any way, but it is definitely a game changer.  This is still, in my opinion, a proof of concept App showing you that it is possible to create a simple App for yourself without spending any more money or having any knowledge of Objective-C, the programming language of iOS - the operating system of the iPhone.  There are some draw backs, including storing your stuff on someone else's server; not being certain how much private data you can leave in the App and as someone pointed out, not knowing if the data stored in your App is searchable via a search engine.  This is especially true for address book Apps that are easy to make on the iPhone with the MyApp software.   Another weakness is the inability to create standard, stand alone non web Apps.  But for simple tasks, such as a web based bookmark or a simple address book or even a simple company web app to introduce your company, it's quite good.   The finished product, the App is also accessible in all mobile phones, not just the iPhone.

A full detailed report to follow on this game changer. 

Addendum:  I was just informed of a competitor called  I haven't used it yet, but it looks interesting also. 

DescTweetbot has been around for a while and really, if you have an iPhone you are essentially wasting your time, your patience and your mind looking at any other App to cover Twitter.  There simply isn't anything on the market that comes close to this App.  It is perhaps the best App ever written for Twitter on the iPhone.  I know, you think it's Hyperbole, akin to my Video Player blog posts, but seriously, don't waste your time downloading anything else if you have an iPhone.  This App actually makes tweeting fun.  And the developers continue to improve on perfection.  Unless you use Twitter none of this makes any sense.  But this weekend as I traversed this great country of ours I was able to see the goings on at other conferences and "hear" about other events, books, presentations etc.  Twitter is amazing.  And it is all the more amazing when you have an App that understands Twitter and how Twitter works.  

In terms of its medical uses, I have run into several authorities on medicine and have actually asked for advice in some instances.  Every one's essentially equal and many people on Twitter are quite receptive and willing to answer questions.  If I'm on call, I can find someone else in the USA or somewhere far such as Australia or New Zealand who is on call too and we can commiserate together.   Amazing.

It's also a great place to meet fellow physicians and people in your medical circle.   Surprisingly, when I joined Twitter I had no intention of having any physicians follow me, but many did, along with other non physicians.   I am really happy that they did and I am really happy that others follow me too.  It's innovative and a fast learning environment.   

One of the greatest things about Twitter is the early dissemination of news.  I figure that we will know the results of the General Election long before CBS or any of the other networks get around to it just by looking at the trending data.   If you haven't signed up, you should.   Tweetbot makes everything easy, even translating your foreign tweets for you. 

iPhone Screenshot 5

Okay, there are a few Apps that you should always have around on your iPhone or on your Desktop.  This is one of them.  The other is Evernote, although you may have some issues with your Firewall, if you have that cumbersome Websense Firewall at your job.   Instapaper is a brilliant App that essentially saves your articles in a stripped down format, leaving only the articles and the pictures.  No ads and no cumbersome pop ups or pop unders.  Well worth every penny that its founder and programmer Marco Arment charges for it.   A great application for journal articles.  It is also found in Tweetbot.

iPhone Screenshot 4If your company allows you to store articles, documents and other stuff in your personal cloud, then Evernote is brilliant, inexpensive cloud storage.  However a serious caveat here.  Don't go around storing patient information on Evernote, especially if it is easily identifiable.  That is a no-no and totally HIPAA non compliant.   The potential to do this is why it's banned in my neck of the woods.   Other than that, it's a brilliant App.  Especially useful for colorful brochures, manuscripts and long form documents.   It was one of the first truly utilitarian cloud Apps that made it easy to store and access documents from your smart phone, desktop and just about anything that could access Evernote.  In 2009, I truly felt that my data could be accessed from anywhere and I wasn't tied to a computer.  

Week Cal

iPhone Screenshot 2Have you ever wished that your calendar could do more than just show dots on a screen?  Did you know that if you open up the calendar App that comes with your iPhone and turn it sideways, you will get an overlay view, albeit not perfect, but present anyway so that you can see if you have any scheduling conflicts.  Not a lot of people know about this and that's not your fault.   Apple doesn't exactly broadcast that you can actually do this with the Calendar App. 

It also doesn't mention, because there isn't an ability to do so, the ability to view your calendar in many different ways, from task, mini-month, week, among others.   Nor does it have emoticons and other color changes for meetings, major and minor alerts, URL, Contacts and notes.  That's because Week Cal is able to do all of these things.  More importantly, the makers of Week Cal, didn't just make a calendar program that stands alone with no integration, it is fully integrated into the indigenous calendar App that Apple provides with the iPhone.  So, if you make a change in Week Cal, it shows up in the Calendar App.  If you make a change in the Calendar App, it shows up in Week Cal.  It's literally seamless.   If you want to make just a simple entry for say tomorrow's grand rounds there's no reason to use Week Cal, just open up the regular Apple Calendar App and do so.  But if you want to make that Grand Rounds occur every second Thursday of the month, you will need to have Week Cal. 

Oh, and do you support a major Football/Soccer/Hockey team?  Or do you need to know exactly when Apple will report something big?  Or does your company have a RSS calendar of events?  You can subscribe to premium calendars in Week Cal and get an overlay of upcoming games and announcements right in your calendars. 

Worth every penny.  I cannot live without this one. 


iPhone Screenshot 1This one's been covered elsewhere, so I won't belabor the point here.  But if you have an institution like mine that changes its passwords for logins at least once per month and you have a plethora of numbers and logins to remember ( 15 for me at any month), then you need to invest in 1Password.  It's a little expensive on the desktop side, but your peace of mind is so worth the investment. 

1Password will also log into websites for you if you have the login set up, thus thwarting those pesky key loggers.   Another one that I cannot live without. 

So, do you have a Jack-of-all-trades pick?  Why not list it here and share it with the world?   Remember, Jack-of-all-trades refers to the app being able to be used in a number of different occupations and not whether the app does a gazillion things (ie. AppBox Pro). 

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