Harvard Medical to power Orca's reference apps

By Jonah Comstock

Orca Health HeartDecideMedical reference app and iBook maker Orca Health announced a partnership with Harvard Medical School this week. Starting with Orca's existing HeartDecide app, Harvard Medical will begin supplying the content for Orca's interactive apps while Orca continues to focus on design and engineering.

Orca began as a hobby for CEO Matt Berry, whose father is a spine surgeon in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the company is built. Orca's iOS apps are designed to help educate surgery patients about their bodies and their surgical options, to aid them in making medical decisions. They include 3D models, interactive animations, narrated videos, and a "Find A Specialist" feature, in partnership with provider locator platform DocSpot. The company's EyeDecide app was named medical app of the year by Apple for 2011.

"We're no longer a text-based society," said Berry. "A surgeon shouldn't give out pamphlets anymore, they ought to prescribe multisensory learning apps."

The new HeartDecide app will have all new content, some of it from existing Harvard Medical materials and some created expressly for the app by Harvard Medical School physicians. In addition, it will have added features, updated graphics, and a faster download time. Orca's health content was previously written by Orca's team of board-certified physicians. Berry said they will stay involved as the company gradually replaces the content in each of the company's 13 apps with content from Harvard.

Orca is also releasing a series of interactive iBooks on particular cardiovascular conditions like angina and atherosclerosis. These are aimed less for patient education and more as e-textbooks for K-20 education (kindergarten through medical school). They are also written by Harvard Medical doctors, modified from existing special reports.

Berry said Orca and Harvard Medical School were connected through a mutual friend at incubator Rock Health (although Orca didn't go through that incubator). He said the team at Harvard Medical School shares his views about text becoming obsolete.

"Many things can be explained better with video, interactive animations and spoken voice—not just plain text," Dr. Anthony Karmaroff, editor in chief of Harvard Medical publishing, said in a statement. "Harvard Medical School believes its partnership with Orca Health will enable people to access, understand and retain high quality health information via state-of-the-art technology."

In addition to plans for an Android launch in the near future, Berry said the company's future direction is to create a more comprehensive, linear solution for patient education, moving from a single app, both for patients and for physicians to use as a teaching tool, to separate apps connected by "an Orca cloud that meets in the middle."

The company's apps are currently available on iOS devices only, normally at $4.99. To celebrate the partnership with Harvard Medical School, the company is temporarily making all their apps free. The iBooks are $4.99 apiece.