Rid Yourself of ‘Windex Advice’: There’s an App for That

flickr: D’Arcy Norman

Remember in 2002, when My Big Fat Greek Wedding became the sleeper comedic hit of the year? And remember what Gus Portokalos recommends for almost every ailment in the film? “Put some Windex on it.” That’s right, the familiar odorous blue glass cleaner. On your skin. I’ve always wondered how many unsuspecting citizens tried this remedy at home after the movie…

Well, although the Windex theme in My Big Fat Greek Wedding was obviously a joke, it reflects the variations of bad advice many of us carry around as we try to navigate health issues. I had a friend whose mother told her never to sit on cold cement or she would be infertile. I had another friend who thought giving her child more cold medicine than the recommended dosage would help her or him get better faster. And I can think of multitudes of bad nutrition advice that has been doled out, practiced, and then discarded through the years (“Eating fat-free cookies won’t make you fat!”).

Well, not surprisingly, a big responsibility of healthcare providers is to try and get correct information into the hands of their patients. Not only do accurate facts help people make better decisions on a daily basis, but they can also help distinguish between a genuine emergency and an ailment that can wait until the morning or a weekday. Correct information can also prevent mistakes in (as mentioned above) delicate areas such as dosage and treatment.

One exciting way that healthcare providers can put correct information literally into the hands of their patients is through apps for smartphones and the iPad. Many hospitals have apps available on iTunes and Android Market—such as Miami Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Central Baptist Hospital.

One of my favorite hospital apps that I’ve seen is from Coral Gables Hospital, which provides versions for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and Android. This app features Health Library, ER Wait Time, Map, Guide Me, Call us, Find a Physician, First Aid, and My Data functions.

The Health Library is separated into topics (adult and pediatric) by Diseases and Conditions, Tests and Procedures, Drug Reference, Healthy Recipes, Herbs and Vitamins, Wellness Library, News Center, Nutrition Facts, and Prevention Guidelines. Those are a lot of resources to have in the palm of your hand!

As we know, many people go online for health advice, and the quality of that advice varies tremendously. In contrast, all the information that a hospital puts into an app is information that the hospital itself can monitor, update, and disseminate, so that it reflects its practitioners’ values and practices. That’s an enviable amount of control for a digital space.

One important thing to remember is that caution should be applied to apps just as to any other freely available health information given out by your hospital. In other words, don’t neglect the legal talk. Before I was able to access the Coral Gables app’s Health Library on my iPhone, for example I was asked to accept the conditions set forth by the hospital, stating that none of the information was a substitute for professional medical advice from my personal physician, etc.

After all, apps are meant to be supplementary tools, much like the rest of social media, which help narrow the space between providers and patients. A well-built, generously informative app lets your community know that your hospital is willing to come to them, wherever they happen to be.

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