Smartphone Apps for Physicians: One Doctor’s Favorites

October 7, 2011

The availability of medical applications that are assisting physicians in practice has exploded. Here are a few of my most trusted and frequently used applications.

Many physicians have adopted the use of smartphones into their traditional day-to-day practices. 

When I was in medical school in the late 1990s, my trusted repository of data was a Palm IIIx. As technology rapidly advanced over the next few years, I moved to a Handspring PDA, then to a Compaq Palm PC, to a BlackBerry, to an iPod Touch, and finally to an iPhone 4.

Since the release of the iPad and the newer iPhone 4, the availability of medical applications that are assisting physicians in practice has exploded. I will summarize a few of my most trusted and frequently used applications loaded onto my iPhone 4. If iOS is not your preferred flavor, rest assured because these titles are available for Windows, Android, and BlackBerry OS as well.

Epocrates Rx: First available for the Palm OS in the late 1990s, Epocrates is probably the most widely used medical application by physicians. There are different flavors of Epocrates available, however for my day-to-day use I prefer the free version. Epocrates is very easy to use and takes just minutes to master. Physicians are able to quickly search a medication and see useful information in a matter of seconds. A drug search gives you the available generic and brand names. Once the selection is made, a menu provides dosing recommendations for adults and pediatrics, black box warnings, contraindications and precautions, adverse reactions, drug interactions, safety/monitoring parameters, pricing, pictures of the medication, and pharmacology properties of the drug. A robust interactions checking program is available to let physicians see possible drug-to-drug interactions as well. I have been using this application since its inception and it only gets better with each subsequent release.

5-Minute Clinical Consult: Like Epocrates, this application was first available in the late 1990s on the Palm OS platform and is now available for desktop computer use, plus BlackBerry OS and iOS smartphones. A purchase of the textbook version provides you with a serial number that can be used for free online access for one year. This reference is handy for rapid review of thousands of searches and can be extremely valuable for directing the initial hospitalization and writing of orders in the hospital. Users can opt to use the smartphone-only version, which carries an annual subscription charge. Overall, it’s a very useful and a must-have application.

UpToDate: I started using this application in residency in 2000 and have been a subscriber since that time. Previously available only for desktop use (either online or by DVD installation), UpToDate is now available as an application for iOS. The iOS application is easy to use and as a resource provides more in-depth information for your searches that the 5-Minute Clinical Consult might not offer. The nice thing about using the UTD application is that each search earns you a CME credit to be used toward the electives requirement. Another very useful application and a must have. This application is available for free for current subscribers to UpToDate.com and even though the UTD subscription is pricey, it is very much worth its cost.

There are other applications available for medical research. First Consult is the smartphone application offered by MD Consult and it is provided free to subscribers of MDC. In my experience, First Consult is nice to have, but most of its content can be readily accessible on UTD. MerckMedicus is available as well, however this application is especially nice because its free price is very attractive. Medscape also offers a nice research application and goes further to offer a very robust pharmacology search engine. If space on your smartphone is a premium, Medscape is well worth it.

Nuance offers a nice, free voice recognition application that’s available for download on the iOS platform under its popular Dragon brand. For those of you who have the option of dictating your notes, you can do this directly into your iPhone and it allows you to either send by text message or e-mail. This application is quite handy when you need to send a message and do not have the option (or do not want to fool with) manually entering the text.

On my wish list for applications to come would be a secure messaging tool that would allow for sending text messages directly to a smartphone. Such technology would allow us to turn in our pagers for good. It would also allow for nurses on the hospital wards and ED physicians to be able to send a secure message regarding patient information that would let the physician know the urgency of the situation.

Many new applications are being developed on a daily basis and the careful implementation of such tools can greatly improve our efficiency as physicians with providing proper, evidence-based care for our patients. The last decade has seen an explosion of medical applications made readily available and I am very eager to see what is in store for us in the decades to come. Certainly as the smartphone technology advances, with it will come even more robust applications.

Learn more about J. Scott Litton, Jr., MD and our other contributing bloggers here.