Back to the iPad – explaining spinal conditions to your patients using iSpineCare

Regular blog readers will recall previous posts describing a range of different anatomy applications for the iPhone and iPad, useful for both learning anatomy and for patient education. A particular favourite of mine thus far has been the 3D4Medical series of Apps discussed in a previous blog post, describing anatomy and pathology of various joints in the body, but these have not included an app designed specifically to cover just anatomy and pathology of the spine to date.

Anatomate-Apps (anatomical animation applications) is a Australian Company founded in 2009  by Dr John Hart, in order to develop iTunes applications designed by clinicians involved in the assessment and treatment of patients with spinal conditions, for use as patient education tools.

The over-riding idea is that patients who are given visual and spoken information in the form of interactive digital media during the consultation may experience an improved quality of care overall, as they are better informed about their condition(s) in a way that they can easily understand, and can then go on to make better informed decisions about their subsequent care.

Whilst there are some patients and clinicians such as myself who undoubtedly welcome these applications for use during the consultation, there are other patients and clinicians who will prefer a more traditional approach. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue against the view that the use of applications designed for patient education on the new iDevices is likely to significantly increase in the future, and I for one am using these more and more in my patient consultations to good effect.

iSpineCare is the first spinal anatomy and patient education application for iDevices that I have come across with such a comprehensive and accurate description of spinal anatomy and pathology. Constituting a hefty download at around 1.7GB of information on iPhone or iPad, the application consists of a main menu with folders relating to cervical and lumbar spinal anatomy, movements, and pathologies together with a folder of conservative care options and an exercise library folder.

Navigating through the different sections is easy and quick, and takes you to a context-specific menu which contains links to a series of movies which can be paused, rewound, or fast-forwarded to different points of interest, together with an image library of key stills from the movies allowing for prolonged discussion around particular points of interest. In addition, a pdf document linked to each movie is presented giving a more detailed explanation of different topics.

Another bonus is the availability of medical imaging alongside the individual movies. This section contains a series of x-rays, CT scans and MRI scans and has interactive labels  and reports to help to explain the images further to patients. This section may also be useful for junior clinicians to assist with learning about spinal pathology from a visual perspective.

The quality of the images and in particular the movies is outstanding, with crystal-clear animations allowing for easy recognition of the relevant spinal anatomy and pathologies. Some of the movies have voice-overs explaining salient points, whereas others are animation-only allowing for the clinician to talk the patient through the particular points of interest important for that individual patient to be aware of and focus on during the consultation. In addition, there is a section where particular images can be added to a list of the user’s favourite movies allowing for quick access to a particular user’s most often-used animations.

Another section of movies under the folder ‘Conservative Care’ offers a number of movies describing back-safe ways of performing everyday duties such as gardening, shopping and typing. There are also movies offering advice on a variety of lifestyle topics.

Finally, there is an ‘Exercise Library’ folder with several sub-folders offering animations describing a series of exercises for different purposes including cervical flexibility exercises and core stability exercises.

The overall package is very slick, well thought-out, and accurate in the descriptions of spinal pathologies and anatomical features. Stand-out points are the quality of the animations and the wide range of animations available. An internet connection is not necessary for the app to run, as all of the animations are downloaded embedded within the main app.

Anatomate-Apps also offers other similar applications describing spinal surgery (iSpineOperations) and pain management (iSpinePainManagement), and there are some smaller-sized applications offering information focussed on some particular aspects of spinal pathologies and operations for those who don’t need the larger apps.

As a Sport and Exercise Medicine Physician, I would have liked a little more emphasis on some of the conditions more commonly seen in my patient population including symptomatic spondylolysis, and cervical ‘stingers’ and ‘burners.’  However, most common pathologies are well represented and I can see iSpineCare and iSpinePainManagement becoming an important part of my clinical practice in the future.

Anatomate-Apps are available on the iTunes Apps store, and a video review of iSpineCare highlighting some of its features is available from the App show iPad edition on the link below.

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About Chris Hughes
Associate Editor, Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine

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