A new smartphone app may help physicians treat stroke victims — but what does it really do?

Dr. Claude Nguyen, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and lead developer of the app, said in a press release that the innovation will make stroke treatment “easier and more efficient.” “Those who treat acute stroke patients often need to accomplish many tasks simultaneously,” he explained. “Not only do we need to deliver acute therapies such as intravenous tPA both safely and expeditiously, but also evaluate them for clinical trials, and mobilize appropriate resources toward these goals.”

The app, as described by its developers at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, consists of four components. First, it has a “phone dialer” function that allows the user to contact critical personnel “directly from the phone.” Second, it gives the user access to data on clinical trials and treatment protocols. Third, a “timekeeper function” helps responding paramedics and physicians keep track of “benchmark times,” such as symptom onset time and arrival time. Finally, the app can help determine whether a patient is eligible for any ongoing clinical trials by checking her data against official records.

At a glance, none of these components look very impressive. The “phone dialer” tool, for example, sounds an awful lot like a regular phone. In fact, most of these appear to be revamped versions of low-brow stock apps like the stopwatch, phonebooks, and, well, the Internet. But that doesn’t mean they won’t save patients.

How Will A Stopwatch Save Me?

For some time, medical research and development have been working on ways to preserve what is arguably the most valuable resource in health care: time. Although scientific advancements have inspired better stroke care, cardiovascular mortality is still the leading cause of death in the U.S., as many patients don’t get the help they need in time. In order to lower mortality, researchers must figure out ways to expand stroke prevention beyond primary points of care.

Take, for example, “Stroke Hero” — a video game designed to educate young children on adverse cardiovascular events like ischemic stroke. By playing the game, kids learn how to recognize symptoms of a stroke, remain calm, and contact emergency services. At its most basic level, the stroke app is no different: Both innovations serve to save time throughout an emergency where a few seconds can make all the difference.

“A smartphone application that centralizes various disparate resources may allow for more efficient management of the acute stroke patient,” Nguyen and colleagues wrote in an accompanying study. “Further, such an application may allow easy screening for clinical trials by new practitioners as they learn of the various inclusion criteria for their studies.”

Source: Nguyen C, Wu TC, Barreto A, Grotta J, Savitz S. A Smartphone Application to Aid in the Evaluation, Treatment and Clinical Trial Enrollment of the Acute Stroke Patient. Presented at the “Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.” 2014.