SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors have a new tool at their fingertips to help individuals receive a faster and more accurate diagnosis when they are sick.
Intermountain Healthcare's GermWatch app, currently only available to physicians, summarizes what viruses are going around certain communities on a weekly basis. When patients are tested for an infectious disease at an Intermountain lab, those results are sent to a database and passed onto doctors through the GermWatch program.
"It's been really, really, really making my job a lot easier," said Dr. Grace Kim Harris of Intermountain Memorial Clinic. "It gives us an update of exactly, this week, in real time, what we've got in Salt Lake City. So instead of just saying to a patient, ‘Oh, you have a bad cold', we can say, ‘You most likely have parainfluenza 1 or adenovirus. Here's what to expect from that. Here's when you're contagious. Here's what to watch out for. Here are the red flags.' "
This week, the virus ramping up in Salt Lake and Utah Counties is parainfluenza type 1, which causes croup.
Ashley Blackham's 4-year-old son, Carter, was presenting the main symptom of croup, a barking cough, when they showed up at Memorial Clinic. Within minutes, they had a diagnosis and a treatment plan from Harris, who was using the GermWatch app.
"Very high confidence that he has what he was diagnosed with," said Blackham. "Just because there are so many cases out there of what he's got and we can know what we're looking at and what we're treating."
"The idea is that they can now use this data to give you a specific diagnosis and not give you antibiotics when they're not needed." Dr. Harris has seen this firsthand," – Dr. Per Gesteland
GermWatch is the vision of Dr. Per Gesteland, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah, and clinician at Primary Children's Hospital. He said this app has the potential to save families time and money.
"The idea is that they can now use this data to give you a specific diagnosis and not give you antibiotics when they're not needed."
Harris said she has seen this firsthand.
"Saves money and it saves their time," Harris said. "I mean, for the parent to take time off work, get the kid out of school, bring the child in to see a doctor, and another one and a third one, and so when they get to us, hopefully they get more of a definitive diagnosis and a plan."
The GermWatch program is so unique, it has caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The CDC has seen what we're doing and has been very impressed," Gesteland said. "I've had some of my colleagues that are at the CDC regularly, pull up their app and show them data and they just can't believe what we've been able to accomplish."
While the app is only available to physicians, Intermountain is working on the public version. It could be available to parents as soon as the end of the year.
In the meantime, check out the GermWatch widget on KSL.com's Your Life, Your Health webpage, for the weekly virus report.