There's a surgical app for that, thanks to Dr. Bender

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Dr. Edward M. Bender poses with his iPad inside an operating room at Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau (Laura Simon)

The first thing Dr. Edward Bender and his fellow physicians do when they gather to go over new lung cancer cases is pull out their iPhones.

An app to help doctors identify the stages of lung cancer is one of 20 medical apps created by Bender, a cardiothoracic surgeon and section chair of cardiothoracic surgery at Saint Francis Medical Center.

"I wanted to have these tools for myself, and then I found that other people also wanted them," Bender said.

There are now iPhone and iPad apps to help physicians keep track of patient records, calculate their risks for surgery, and learn about surgical procedures.

A quick glance at his iPhone may soon show Bender real time data including fluid intake, vital stats and heart monitor readings from machines to his patient's bedside, without ever setting foot inside the hospital.

"Apps will be an extension of patient care. It's not the future, it's now," he said. "I'm just enthralled with this technology. I think it is fantastic."

Bender, who was the first doctor in the area to use the da Vinci robotic surgery system to perform open heart surgery, is no stranger to technology, but he isn't interested in dazzling patients with fancy devices.

"They don't know that this is new, that this is cutting edge. They're just being given information during a time period that is kind of scary for them," Bender said. "My purpose is not to wow them. My purpose is to give them as much information as I can and comfort them as best I can."

He sits down with patients, iPhone in hand and uses the "Heart Surgery Risk" app he created to talk with them about their upcoming procedures. He can assess their likelihood of death, stroke, kidney damage or having to be on a breathing machine for a prolonged period.

If he's got 10 minutes before a surgery, Bender pulls out his iPhone in the hallway to prepare.

"I can go to my iPhone and call up data or calculate risks. I can see what best practices are, I can see what the guidelines are and use it right then and there instead of having to go to the medical library, look through books, go back to my office or find some computer and go to a website," he said. "And it's only the tip of the iceberg."

Dr. Thomas Diemer, medical director at Saint Francis Medical Center, said Bender's lung cancer staging app is helping diagnose patients properly to make sure they get the right treatment.

"Previously you'd use a book. Especially for something like lung cancer, that's a lot of page flipping and you still might have some questions. With his app it's fairly easy," Diemer said.

Being a surgeon and a hobbyist computer programmer gives Bender the blend of skills necessary to create these high-tech medical tools.

"His calling obviously is surgery, but it just so happens that he's very, very good in the techno world," Diemer said. "He's able to marry his calling, his surgery talents with his hobby and that doesn't come along all that often. He's very good at both."

Bender's EuroScore app, which gauges risks for heart surgery in Europe was released about three months ago and now has more than 4,000 users who have used the app 13,000 times.

His iBronch app helps students learn about the anatomy of a bronchoscopy procedure, where physicians use a tiny video camera to check patients' airways for tumors or infection. By tracing a finger along an illustration of the lungs, the user can see video of that exact spot taken during one of Bender's own bronchoscopy procedures. The iBronch app -- the only one of Bender's apps that isn't free -- costs 99 cents.

His latest project is creating courses for iTunes U as a member of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons's education committee. He hopes to eventually create an app with a schedule of live streaming lectures, giving students all over

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