Surgeons could find that technology makes their workflow run more efficiently with new apps and digital tools. But which ones work best?

That is a question the American College of Surgeons (ACS) plans to answer by the end of 2020 with a toolkit resource that evaluates and rates various apps geared toward surgeons.

“We’re not looking at patient apps; there are a lot of apps out there that are communication apps and require a lot of investment, by the institution, to employ,” says Heather Evans, MD, MS, FACS, vice chair, clinical research and applied informatics, and professor of surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“We’re interested in apps that surgeons can use for education, documentation, or as information and resources,” Evans continues. “These are apps that bring together information in a digestible format that would be helpful at the bedside for decision-making or apps that allow you to have access to the latest literature on a topic.”

ACS’s health information technology committee includes a dozen people, including Evans (committee chair), working on the app evaluation project. A task force of volunteer surgeons also is involved.

“We have just codified our process, and developed a rating system for how we would like to evaluate the apps,” Evans says. “We wanted to develop something by surgeons for surgeons that didn’t have any bias to it, so we would be able to find the most useful and reliable apps out there, and surgeons could have these in their toolkit.”

For example, Evans has heard about an education app that teaches surgeons about pediatric surgery core concepts. It can be a reference for surgeons, providing videos as instructional tools.

“I haven’t used it, but one of my committee members took a look at it and thought it was worthwhile,” she says. “That’s the kind of thing the whole committee will look at.” In another example, there are apps that sound as though they might be very useful, but turn out to be disappointing.

“There is an app out there that purports to show you all CPT codes, but, in fact, it’s not really searchable,” Evans reports. “It’s not a terribly useful kind of app if you can’t type in the name of the procedure you want to code. You have to know the code to find it or search through a directory.”

Apps like this would not make the toolkit list. “We wouldn’t want to point surgeons in that direction and waste their time,” Evans adds.

Eventually, ACS will invite its members to submit apps for review, but this is down the road, Evans notes. “In the beginning, we are being more deliberate about it because we don’t know how many members will create apps,” she explains. “We’re interested in offering this as a service to surgeons so they can have some kind of guidance.”