Innovation: MSF know-how goes mobile

MSF / Doctors Without Borders medical guidelines are legendary. Whether it's treating cerebral malaria in the under-fives, or how to anaesthetise a patient when the only drugs available aren't used in your home country, the MSF guidelines have been offering clear, concise information to our staff in the field for years. But they're big books, and electronic pdf files are of limited use if you're visiting a clinic with no electricity. Tim Wilkinson blogs about a simple idea that's aiming to change all that...

I'm a volunteer in the Manson Unit, a division of MSF that aims to improve the quality of innovative solutions to challenges in the field. I am also a doctor working for the NHS in Scotland.

Guidelines are a vital part of modern medicine. As much as we would like to pretend otherwise, it’s impossible to know and remember everything. Instead, we rely on guidelines as a quick reference to help with a given situation. This means we have ready access to a summary of best practice, written by experts, based on the latest research evidence.

MSF has been using guidelines for 25 years, so when I was asked to write a blog about my thoughts on their recently released Medical Guidelines App, I went straight to the App Store, downloaded the app, and checked it out.

When opening the app there are three sets of guidelines you can download, making them accessible offline:

  • Clinical Guidelines – covers the management of a wide range of adult and paediatric diseases
  • Essential Drugs – a searchable list of oral and injectable drugs, intravenous fluids, vaccines and topical antiseptics, including indications, dosage and potential side effects.
  • Essential obstetric and newborn care – a set of guidelines for MSF health professionals that deal with obstetric emergencies.

Image shows a screenshot from the medical guidelines app

There are three sets of downloadable guidelines for the app.

These three documents contain an enormous amount of information. Their PDF versions come to 1055 A4 pages in total! Imaging manually searching them on a computer or, if using printed versions, by hand - it would be very time consuming. Instead, the app allows you to quickly find the guidelines you need, and then save them for future reference.

Being a neurologist, my first act was to look at the recommendations for seizures. I found the page quickly, which neatly subdivided the recommendations depending on the particular seizure type faced by the MSF clinician.

Image shows a screenshot from the medical guidelines app

An example of the information available in the Clinical Guidelines section. In this example for seizures, the user can quickly navigate to the information they need on the management of seizures.

Next, I turned to the Essential Drugs document. The contents page broadly divides drugs based on their type and the way they are administered: oral, injectable, infusion fluids, vaccines and antiseptics. For each section, drugs are listed alphabetically, making it quick and easy to find the information you need. Within each drug section, there is comprehensive information on important things such as how it works, what the drug is used for, the dose and method of administration, and potential side effects.

Image shows a screenshot from the medical guidelines app

An example of the information available for ceftriaxone, an antibiotic, within the Essential Drugs section of the app.

This is a really exciting resource, and I have no doubt it will be taken up quickly by MSF clinicians in the field. By combining all of MSF’s guidelines into one, user-friendly app, its creators have brought a wealth of information to the fingertips of MSF workers around the world.

MSF clinicians frequently face a diverse range of symptoms, signs and diseases, often in very challenging circumstances. Their patients deserve the best possible care, and the use of up-to-date, accurate information is a huge part of providing that.

The introduction of this app means that MSF workers, wherever they are in the world, will have all the information they need - in their pocket, just a couple of finger taps away.To download the app for free search for “MSF medical guidelines” at the Apple or Android app store.

To read an MSF doctor's blog about the unfortunate fate of her medical guidelines, click here