Something Bugging You? There’s an App for That

Under a high magnification of 20,000X, this digitally-colorized scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria taken from a vancomycin intermediate resistant culture (VISA).  Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause of skin and wound infections.  (Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
 By Sharon Holland

The Earth is home to an estimated one trillion microbes. While most of them have yet to be discovered, identifying those that have been often poses a challenge to health care providers. Thanks to a team of military medical students and microbiologists at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), the answer may be just a click away.

The app icon which is a µ
Download the app on iTunes
µBio (pronounced “microbio”) Reference, a new iPhone app developed by Navy Ensign Cole Denkensohn, offers a one-stop shop for health care providers and medical students looking for information on bacteria, viruses, protozoa and other microbes. µBio Reference, available for free at the App Store, is a quick reference guide for more than 162 of the most common bugs encountered by medical professionals. It gives instant, offline access (important in a hospital environment with limited connectivity) to the most pertinent facts about microbes being studied or encountered on the wards.

According to Denkensohn, traditional educational tools flood learners with a "fire hose" of information but little direction for which details are most critical for the national medical licensing board exams and use on hospital wards. Students instead cram for exams and rely on question banks and seemingly endless study sessions in the hospital to begin building a mental framework. These methods are effective but represent a reactive learning strategy with clear room for improvement. With this in mind, the USU team led by Denkensohn built μBio Reference as a microbiology reference application designed specifically for medical students.

Denkensohn began the project a year ago as a way to incorporate his skills as a prior website programmer with medicine.

Two male med students in uniform look at a phone
Navy Ensign Cole Denkensohn (left), a fourth-year medical student
at the Uniformed Services University, discusses his new iPhone app,
µBio Reference, with Navy Lt. (Dr.) Nelson Desouza, an internal
medicine resident at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. (Image
credit: courtesy of ENS Cole Denkensohn)
“Microbiology had always been a difficult area for me since there are so many bugs with endless information about each. I was thinking about how I might make that material more digestible if I were to create some kind of tool for studying micro, and I realized that an app might be the best tool as it would allow students quick access on the go, thus lowering the barrier to reviewing material. An app like this specifically for students did not exist. I also realized that as medical students going through the curriculum, we were in the perfect position to identify which facts are most important,” Denkensohn said.

Assisting Denkensohn with the project were his USU classmates, David Lieb, Nolan Jones, Krista Shaw, Paolo Rigo, and Raymundo Marcelo, along with Dr. Louise Teel, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at USU, and Sean Baker, chief technology officer for the University.

The app features key, testable information related to medically-relevant bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Content is continually re-evaluated and updated for accuracy, utility, and simplicity. Data is stored on the user’s device for instant, offline access. Data updates are available on demand when connected to the web.

The app’s content is intentionally light-weight and consists of only the most relevant information, meant to lower the barrier for material review and encourage repetition throughout the day, rather than cramming before an exam. Key facts link to additional detail (diagrams, articles, etc.) while connected to the internet to allow for deeper learning in academic settings.

Searches can be done of high-yield information on microbes by typing in all or part of the name or by looking up specific characteristics or categories (i.e. gram stain, morphology, disease, etc.) and entering the search terms.

“My hope is that students and other health care professionals will be able to use this tool to quickly review relevant medical microbiology, which will lead to a more solid foundation and allow for rapid interpretation on the wards,” said Denkensohn.