Apple iPhone or iPod Touch owners are best known for using their trendy electronic gadgets to track appointments, watch the latest "American Idol" episode or social network via Twitter.

Now, nephrologists can track their patients' kidney function on the handheld devices, courtesy of a new program developed by DaVita Inc.

The El Segundo dialysis clinic operator this month launched the Glomerular Filtration Rate Calculator at Apple's online store iTunes. The calculation sounds complicated but in essence describes the flow rate of filtered fluid through the kidney.

So now, for a token 99-cent charge, kidney care specialists will be able to whip out their iPhone during a clinic visit, input a patient's serum creatinine level and several other demographic factors to quickly estimate how close that person may be to kidney failure in any one of five languages.

"GPR is one of the most common calculations a nephrologist does each day," said Richard Grenell, DaVita's senior vice president of communications, noting that a less portable online calculator at the company's Web site gets tens of thousands of hits each month.

"Nephrologists are some of the busiest physicians within the health care industry, and there is a need for innovative solutions to make a work-life balance more efficient."

While the company is not ready to say how many copies of the program have been purchased, Grenell said the program in its first week of release was downloaded by kidney specialists from as far away as Australia and Ireland, thousands of miles from the nearest DaVita outpatient clinic. The company tries to build similar relationships with patients via its online education programs, such as a "kidney diet tips" blog that debuted last week.

"The response tells us there's a need for tools like this, especially with its potential to enable physicians to better educate patients," said Grenell, adding that the company is considering adapting the GFR program for other mobile devices, such as Blackberry and Windows Mobile phones. "We knew this was going to change the face of kidney care. Physicians are becoming much more tech savvy."

Getting Lean

Two small L.A.-area health care companies are shedding noncore businesses and facilities in order to better survive the tougher business financing environment.

North American Scientific Inc. in Chatsworth is selling its prostate brachytherapy product line to Best Theratronics Ltd. of Ottawa, Canada, for $5 million so that it can better concentrate on a similar therapy for breast cancer. Brachytherapy involves inserting tiny radioactive metal seeds around the tumor to kill it with less chance of hurting healthy cells.

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