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In a twist on medical record keeping, a group from the University of Washington has developed a tool called Baby Steps, which lets parents put their (often overwhelming) collection of baby pictures to practical use.

Baby Steps is a computer program that collects and organizes photos and other information on a child in a virtual baby book and baby calendar. Importantly, the software also encourages parents to record key developmental milestones–significant moments in the first five years of life, such as a baby’s first step, first word and the like. Parents can also use the software to send customized newsletters to friends and family.

Researchers found that parents who used the program recorded nearly twice as many of these milestones as those who used a basic medical record-logging program instead. Pediatricians urge parents to monitor these milestones so they can be aware of early warning signs of developmental disorders, like autism or deafness.

Julie Kientz, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Washington, presented the paper at CHI 2009 on Wednesday, showing that parents who used Baby Steps had more useful information to present duringt visits to pediatricians and were more confident about their record keeping.

“Making medical record keeping more fun and less medical actually motivates people and can have positive influences,” said Kientz during her talk.

The UW researchers also synched a wireless video camera to the program. The camera took snapshots of the baby at regular intervals. That way, if parents or doctors need to look back for developmental progress, they have a readily-accessible log. The team is now working on an online version.

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Tagged: Computing, software, social technology

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