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Dr. iPhone On Burn Duty

Treating burn victims quickly is key to their survival. But doctors–especially those in war zones–can make simple mistakes. A new app aims to take the guesswork out it.

Dr. iPhone On Burn Duty

A free iPhone app could save the lives of burn victims on the battlefield and in the clinic.

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It was developed by Chris Seaton, a computer engineer who served in the medical corps of the British Army for four years. Seaton spent time in Afghanistan as an army medic, and witnessed the need for simple treatment tools.

One of the first treatments for a burn victim is a copious dose of fluids to replace those stripped from the body by the accident. This dose is usually hand-calculated after a doctor estimates how extensive the burn area is, factoring in the age and gender of the patient.

Doctors who don’t treat burns routinely are prone to errors in the calculation, Seaton explained to Co.Exist. Also, they often slip up when guessing how much of a person the burn covers.

The app, called Mersey Burns, helps avoid both those blunders. On their nearest device–the app works on an iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch–a physician can shade in the burnt area on an image of a patient’s body. Next, they tap in the patient’s age and gender. The app calculates the right amount of fluids the patient needs in the next few critical hours.

Seaton worked with plastic surgeons Rowan Pritchard-Jones and Paul McArthur to design the app. The app was then tested by about 30 doctors, who created mock treatments based on photographs of burn patients. The app makers found that doctors who used the app made fewer mistakes on their fluid dosage calculation by a third.

For treating burns in combat zones, such an app could come to the speedy aid of busy medics. “The problem only gets worse in a war zone,” Seaton says.

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Yesterday, in England, the app was approved by the health care regulatory body, making it the first regulated app for medical health that’s passed through peer review. Seaton is now submitting it to the app store, where he hopes for another speedy approval.

As he continues working toward his PhD at the University of Manchester, Seaton hopes to type up another few medical apps in the coming months. He wants to focus on simple programs that correct common, easily avoidable errors. “Often physicians don’t know its fairly easy to write an app,” he says, “We’re encouraging some of those quick wins.”