HENDERSON, Nev. -- Physicians surround themselves with the latest in medical technology to keep up with the demands of patients who want to live longer, healthier lives but it's a different story when it comes to communicating with fellow health care professionals.
At least that is what former gaming company technology executive Sunny Tara and Henderson cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Dhiraj Narula figured when they created docBeat, a smart phone app introduced in March that is designed to make it easier for doctors to contact one another.
For inspiration they looked at successful online communication tools such as Facebook and Twitter and proceeded on a mission to apply that technology to health care.
"There is a big gap in the tools doctors use to communicate," Tara said at his Henderson office. "If you look at what they use, it's still 1950s switchboard technology. Even though 90 percent of doctors have smart phones, they still use switchboards and pagers."
Doctors and nurses waste plenty of time tracking each other down or trying to contact other health care professionals, Tara said.
"If you make doctors more efficient, it will improve patient care," Tara said. "In the end we will all be winners."
The app, which is currently free to download from docbeatapp.com, can only be used by licensed physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants. A key feature is that it allows the user to have a second, private telephone number through the same smart phone.
Users who belong to the app's network can communicate with each other through that second number. They will become informed whether the doctor or nurse they are trying to reach is immediately available or has someone else filling in for them, with a contact number conveniently attached.
Another feature is the ability to send secure text, such as sensitive patient information, in a way that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, yet allows doctors to share input on a particular patient in a more timely manner.
"This is an amazingly simple yet handy solution for the vexing issue of trying to reach your peers in the medical field," said one of the nearly 200 users of the app. "I am sure this app will pick up and spread rapidly as hospital administrators recognize the cost effectiveness of this app and doctors realize they no longer have to wade into the unknown of figuring out who is available for cross referrals and how to get to them."
Sunny Tara, CEO and co-founder of docBeat, demos the app. Profile shown does not contain real doctor information.
The app also has a directory with the phone numbers of every hospital, physician and pharmacy in the United States, and can arrange those numbers by those closest geographically to the app user.
The way docBeat currently generates revenue is through in-app advertisements, such as from drug companies, that are targeted at particular medical specialists.
The plan at docBeat is to introduce a fee-based premium app in July. The company also is negotiating with hospitals to set up customized apps that could be used by all health care providers within those facilities. Also in store are upgrades to the app that will allow physicians to transmit secure medical records and photos to colleagues.
Tara and two app developers are the only full-time employees at docBeat. In addition to Narula, the company has six other developers and advisers on the team. But Tara, a native of India who became a top technology executive at both Harrah's Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment Corp.) and Cantor Gaming, said docBeat has tremendous growth potential.
"We want to be the top player in communication collaboration with physicians," Tara said. "We think they want things that save them time and decrease their liability."