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Digital Health Startup Orca Health Teams Up with Harvard


Posted in Medical Software by Brian Buntz on January 15, 2013

The book titled “Moonwalking with Einstein” recounts the story of a man with a truly remarkable memory. Referred to simply as “S,” could easily remember strings of numbers 70 digits long—and recite them forwards and backwards. Also impressive was that S could recall such memories for years afterwards. The book ascribes S’s memory prowess to the fact that he was a synaesthete; his five senses were intricately intertwined. “Words set S’s mind ablaze with mental imagery,” the book explains, later adding that “[a]ll of our memories are, like S’s, bound together in a web of associations.”
 
Orca Health's heart health app features interactive animation, audio information, as well as text descriptions.  
While learning long strings of numbers is no easy feat for most people, there is perhaps a lesson in S's example: multisensory learning can be a surprisingly powerful. Research performed at the University of California, Los Angeles and Riverside, respectively, indicates that learning in an environment that stimulates multiple senses at once dramatically helps with the retention of information. The researchers report that people normally retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 30% of what they see—but retain 50% of what they see and hear.
 
In the healthcare realm, multisensory learning principles could used to improve the education of medical professionals as well as improve patients’ understanding of their health and diseases afflicting them. Doing the latter could help address poor health literacy, which accounts for 7 to 17% of personal healthcare costs according to a 2007 report titled “Low Health Literacy” from John Vernon, PhD of the University of Connecticut. 
 
The startup Orca Health is working to leverage the power of multisensory learning with a suite of health education apps that feature 3-D animations, audio explanations, and text descriptions of common diseases."We've worked hard to incorporate multisensory education into our apps. We sought out the best academic research on the subject and applied those principles to the apps," says Matt Berry, founder and CEO of Orca Health. "The apps aren't just 'fun to play with' or 'cool 3D and graphics;' they're based on the latest research in multisensory learning," he adds. 
 
The Advantages of Multisensory Learning
A study found that 84% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that 3D had improved their ability to learn.
Multisensory training also can reduce the duration needed to learn. One study found that it took participants in a unisensory training group five days to reach the test score that multisensory participants reached in two days.
The company's products are intended to facilitate educating patients, healthcare specialists, and students.The software also enables users to find local medical specialists. The company recently announced a partnership with Harvard Medical School, which will result in a series of iBooks. An iBook on the heart will be published this month, which will cover a variety of heart conditions using a variety of media.

"Many things can be explained better with video, interactive animations and spoken voice—not just plain text,” explained Anthony L. Komaroff, MD editor-in-chief Harvard Health Publications 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." 

Brian Buntz is the editor-at-large at UBM Canon's medical group. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz


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