Parents who dread trying to call their pediatrician on nights and weekends have a new friend: the KidsDoc iPhone app.
Say your child has a stomach ache. Click on "abdominal pain" and KidsDoc asks: "Is this your child's symptom?" Drill down to "pain or discomfort located between the bottom of the rib cage and the groin crease" and you will encounter a list of symptoms based on severity. Selecting: "Not moving or too weak to stand," prompts a message to immediately call 911, whereas selecting "mild pain that comes and goes," instructs you to call your doctor within 24 hours.
The app's advice is based on a triage system used in children's hospitals and nurse advice call centers, which has been tested for 15 years among more than 150 million phone calls. It's the creation of Bart Schmitt, a 73-year-old pediatrician at Children's Hospital Denver, who wrote a pre-cell phone version of the symptom checker back in 1968. Two years ago, his son showed him an iPhone and said, "Dad, you need to get in on this wave." The elder Schmitt got into apps, and said, 'I can do this.'" Turning the symptom checker into an app required hiring a programmer and six months of work. Schmitt then partnered with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which launched the KidsDoc app.
"It's for parents to make self-triage decisions—to decide if they are dealing with an emergency, whether they need to see the doctor the next day, or if they can safely treat at home," Schmitt says. "It provides up-to-date care advice they can use at home." Turning his life's work into an app, he says, "has been a real high."
I'm a fool for new iPhone apps, so I didn't hesitate to pony up the $1.99 for KidsDoc. The interface is simple and clear; I'm sure I could manage to use it when I have a sick kid on my hands at 3 a.m. A lot of the information digs deeper than just triage, though. For instance, a section titled "Fever Myths and Facts" explains that kids often feel warm when they don't have a fever, and that fevers caused by infections don't cause brain damage, a common misconception. There are also charts for dosing Tylenol and other common children's meds, as well as a button that instantly calls 911. One of the jazziest features is a link to Google Maps that pinpoints all the pediatric emergency rooms in the vicinity, based on the phone's geolocational device. The app's only apparent flaw is that the "search" function doesn't seem to work. When I typed "sting," for instance, it failed to find the "bee sting" reference available alphabetically. But I still think it's a great tool for parents.
Don't have an iPhone, or don't feel like spending $1.99 on an app? The KidsDoc symptom checker is also available for free online, at HealthyChildren.org. The online checker contains the same information, but without going mobile. My family is headed out West to go hiking soon. The KidsDoc app will be hiking with us.