Can med students learn better with Osmosis?

With more physicians taking advantage of the efficiency and accuracy promised by mobile health devices, another flourishing sector in health tech developments aims to improve knowledge and tech adaptability earlier in the health care cycle: mobile tech for med students.

An Osmosis screen shot.
An Osmosis screen shot.

Osmosis is a recently approved iOS app and web platform for med students and schools founded by Ryan Haynes, a Johns Hopkins med student with a PhD in neuroscience from Cambridge, and Shiv Gaglani, also a Johns Hopkins med student, who developed the Smartphone Physical at TEDMED 2013.

The free, quiz-based app, available now, aims to help students learn and retain the voluminous information needed to pass those tricky medical boards. It combines three education concepts: quick, periodic reviews; improved absorption of material through practice questions; and social network-enabled, peer-to-peer learning. Many of its quiz questions were developed in conjunction with content providers such as the American College of Physicians.

The app tracks students’ confidence, accuracy, and elapsed time on each question and will soon publish anonymized leaderboards that allow students to see how they stack up in terms of answering questions. Some 240 invited alpha users, all medical students, contributed more than 1,500 images and videos, crowd-sourced over 5,000 practice questions, and answered those more than half-a-million times.

“Now that we have 6,000 medical students from more than 250 institutions signed up, we anticipate delivering millions of practice questions to our future doctors, keeping them up-to-date on their medical knowledge. This is something I feel strongly about as a medical student who experienced significant cram-forget cycles that don’t lead to long-term retention,” says Gaglani, who is also a Harvard MBA candidate and an editor at “That’s why we designed Osmosis: to flatten the forgetting curve and help medical students learn fundamental medical knowledge to help improve patient outcomes.”

“We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response to the mobile app. Within one week we became one of the top 100 free educational apps on the iTunes store. Around 1,500 medical students have already downloaded it and collectively answered close to 30,000 questions,” he says.

The web platform, currently in beta and with a public launch planned this fall, has been live since 2012 both at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Perdana University Graduate School of Medicine in Malaysia, Haynes says. The web platform has added gamification features, including contributor leaderboards. Osmosis will offer institutional subscribers a tiered fee schedule, from free to $2 per user, per month, which includes features like open-lecture videos, resources to take and store notes and course documents, and usage analytics.

The Patient Promise: Healers pledge to lead by example

“Physician, heal thyself. And also, get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, eat nutritious whole foods, and ease some of your stress.”

That’s not quite how the biblical quote reads.  But Johns Hopkins medical students Shiv Gaglani and David Gatz are hoping doctors and nurses will heed those words nevertheless. They’ve begun an initiative called The Patient Promise that urges current and future healthcare professionals to pledge that they’ll adopt “healthy lifestyle behaviors” – physical activity, balanced nutrition, and stress management — to benefit themselves and, by extension, their patients.

Shiv Gaglani and David Gatz

The two came up with the idea after watching, with dismay, their own health decline due to the stress and long working hours of their first year of medical school. They also noted studies showing that some 63 percent of male physicians and 55 percent of female nurses are overweight or obese, what the health industry calls “tight white coat syndrome.”

That could spell trouble for patients; a study in the January issue of the journal Obesity showed that overweight or obese physicians talked to obese patients about weight management for only 18 percent of available opportunities; in doctors with a healthy BMI, that number rose to 30 percent — still plenty of room for improvement, though. Conversely, other studies show that doctors with healthier habits are more likely to counsel their patients to adopt preventive lifestyle behaviors.

Another Patient Promise goal is to combat weight bias discrimination. “Research suggests that medical students are more likely to view the obese and smokers as lazy or apathetic, which can show up in how they care for such patients down the road,” says Gaglani, who adds that he has witnessed such behavior in clinical settings.

Those pledging the Promise agree to, instead, “…identify and guard myself from potential prejudices against my patient based on unhealthy behaviors, recognizing the often complex origins of these habits.”

Since the program launched in June, 642 medical professionals and students from 50 institutions around the country have made the pledge. Participants monitor themselves, but Gaglani says he’s received a great deal of positive feedback, and that a number of students who’ve signed the promise have since lost weight or quit smoking — including himself.

“Personally, it affects my daily habits as well as my interactions with patients,” he says. “I had gained about 10 pounds during my first year of med school and have since lost those after committing to the Promise. I also have tried learning more about nutrition – something not emphasized at most medical schools – so that I can optimize my own, and my patients’, diet.

“It’s kept me honest with my own lifestyle,” he says.