Published March 30, 2016
Winnie Tsao, MD, a third-year resident in the Department of Family Medicine, has developed a mobile app that helps primary care practitioners and trainees determine the most appropriate imaging test for a range of medical conditions.
Radiology Consult offers users step-by-step recommendations, directing them to the fastest and best diagnostic imaging route in clear language.
With algorithms for 34 common medical conditions, the app includes preprocedural preparations as well as appraisals of the advantages and limitations of each test.
It’s available on Apple platforms, though Tsao and her collaborators plan to launch an Android version.
Tsao wanted to create an app that physicians, nurse practitioners, medical trainees and students could use at the point of care.
“In a busy clinic, you don't have time to look through book chapters and indexes to find what you need,” she says. “With this, you pull out your iPhone and, in two or three clicks, find out what test you need to order.
“This app helps you find the best medical test — the most cost-effective and easiest path you can take to an earlier diagnosis.”
Tsao came up with the idea for the app when she was a fourth-year medical student at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
During a rotation at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Tsao’s preceptor, Zachary D. Grossman, MD, professor of radiology, shared a pocket-sized book he’d co-written titled “Cost-Effective Diagnostic Imaging: The Clinician's Guide.”
She found it invaluable, frequently turning to it for guidance on the best test to order for different symptoms and suspected diagnoses.
But when Tsao searched for a similar manual in app form, she discovered that it didn’t exist.
“The concept of the book — to help clinicians decide the next best step in the workup of medical diseases — is great,” Tsao says.
“By turning it into an app, we’ve brought it into the 21st century. We’ve made it accessible to a lot more people, so it can help a lot more people.”
Although she’d never developed an app before, Tsao embraced the challenge.
“Growing up, I always loved computers,” she says. “My side hobby in high school was fixing everyone’s broken computer. It’s fun for me.”
With Grossman enthusiastically endorsing and financially supporting the project, Tsao devoted the summer before her intern year to converting the book’s content into a sleek, interactive app.
She continued to refine it throughout her first year of residency in family medicine. As the book’s most recent edition had been published in 2006, its co-authors updated their respective sections and forwarded them to Tsao, who edited them for the app.
Jiang Yio, MD — then a fourth-year UB medical student — completed one of the final steps needed to launch the app: writing the code.
Radiology Consult debuted in 2015. It has undergone one update, with a second planned for this year.
The app received a favorable review on iMedicalApps, a leading online reviewer of mobile medical technology.
Independent Health and Kaiser Permanente have also expressed interest in it, Tsao says.
“Health care plans see this as a way to save money by avoiding unnecessary or duplicate tests while providing better patient care,” she notes.
Tsao, Grossman and their collaborators are publicizing Radiology Consult through their website and word-of-mouth.
They’ve gifted about 150 copies of the $9.99 app to colleagues, including all UB family medicine trainees and faculty who use an Apple device.
Tsao is encouraged by the positive feedback she’s received, especially from the UB medical community.
Diana G. Wilkins, MD, program director of the family medicine residency, invited her to introduce the app to incoming residents during last year’s orientation.
“I’ve heard her asking students, ‘Do you know what the next best test is?’ ‘Have you looked it up in the app?’” Tsao says.
“It’s been great to get that support.”
UB’s supportive environment is one of the main reasons Tsao chose to complete her training here.
“I had a great experience in med school, so I knew I wanted to stay here for residency,” the Manhattan native says. That certitude led her to apply to, and be accepted into, UB’s Generalist Scholars Program, designed for medical students who indicate such a preference.
Many UB faculty members have mentored Tsao during her education and training, including David M. Thomas, MD, assistant professor of clinical family medicine.
“Dr. Thomas has had a huge role in developing me as a person and as a doctor,” she says.
“He taught me how to shake a patient’s hand properly, how to make a patient comfortable, how to read a patient’s emotions on their face. He taught me to not just listen to what a patient is saying, but to really look at them to see what’s going on.
“I emulate so much of what he does. I owe a lot of what I know and who I am to the faculty at UB.”
From learning and training to researching and volunteering, Tsao has made the most of her years at UB.
She turned a project on Roswell Park's clinic for patients with undiagnosed cancers into an award-winning poster at UB’s 2013 Scholarly Exchange Day. In 2015, she earned an outstanding service award from the family medicine residency program.
In addition to mentoring girls interested in pursuing medical careers, she has cared for patients at UB’s student-run free medical clinic and a shelter for women and children.
Last year, Tsao began moonlighting at MASH Urgent Care. When she completes her residency training this summer, she’ll sign on with MASH full-time.
Is there more app development in her future?
“I felt there was a need for the radiology app because we didn’t have anything like it,” she says. “I haven’t seen a huge need like that since then, but I’d consider it if I saw the need.”