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Providing Quick Info for Health Care Providers: DU Computer Scientists and Doctor Create Popular App

So many illnesses require palliative care-relieving the pain and suffering of patients-and an incredible amount of the information that doctors and other health care providers share in this field is available online.

But some areas of hospitals don't have strong Internet connections. This problem is now solved, thanks to a mobile application that can be accessed without an Internet connection, a helpful gateway created by a Duquesne University student, his faculty mentor and a local doctor.

The app for Palliative Care Fast Facts, a commonly used health care reference that provides peer-reviewed, practical summaries on medical topics, is available in the iTunes store (Bit.ly/getfastfacts), and works on iPhones and iPads, said Dr. Jeffrey Jackson, professor of mathematics and computer science in Duquesne's McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

The Fast Facts are concise teaching tools for bedside rounds and for health care providers to use for self-study. Through the app, the information becomes readable on small devices, with features such as a global search function, an email link so users can share articles with colleagues, rotating cases of the month and articles of the day, plus other handy references.

Although the app has been available only since the beginning of May, it was downloaded 463 times during its initial 15 days in the iTunes store, mainly by users in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom and Brazil, but from as far away as South Africa.

Dr. Haipeng (Mark) Zhang, chief resident in internal medicine at Allegheny Health Network, said that when the app was mentioned at the Harvard Medical School's Center for Palliative Care Education and Practice spring conference, it received spontaneous applause and many attendees downloaded it on the spot.

 "I was introduced to Fast Facts while serving a palliative care rotation," Dr. Zhang said. "I've always been interested in IT and mobile applications, and thought a mobile app would be a great way to expand the use of this great database."

Zhang previously had worked with Jackson and his Systems Analysis and Software Design class to create a prototype iPhone app making medical information easily accessible to residents in training within Allegheny Health Network.

Last fall, Zhang approached Jackson to see if his class could help to develop a mobile Fast Facts app. The class started the work and student Mike Caterino completed the work as his senior project before graduating in May.

"It was a great way to wrap up a major in computer science," Caterino said. "This project allowed me to continue growing in the field while tying together everything that the computer science department taught me."

The hands-on experience, Jackson said, gives students insight into the challenges and expectations that lie ahead for them. "This project is particularly impressive because medical professionals have a reputation for being very demanding," Jackson said. "That this app has been so enthusiastically received by the palliative care community speaks volumes about the quality of the work done by our students."

"The Fast Facts app is an invaluable resource for those of us who work with end-of-life patients and their families," said Randy Hebert, MD, Chair of the Division of Palliative Care at Allegheny Health Network and Medical Director of Forbes Hospice. "Having such a large storehouse of information at our fingertips greatly assists us in our efforts to deliver care efficiently and compassionately."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.