The launch of the iPhone and Android smartphone platforms spurred a boom in medical application use, thanks to the ability to run much more complex medical apps at the point of care than earlier, text-based apps used on personal digital assistants, or PDAs. “Physicians can now explore disease pathology and review medical literature anywhere and anytime,” says Iltifat Husain, MD. “Physicians can use medical apps to enhance their own learning as well as teach patients at the bedside and improve the patient–physician relationship.”

What’s the App Adoption Holdup?

Despite the potential benefits, smartphone app use is far from ubiquitous among physicians. “Many physicians don’t know how to use mobile devices,” says Dr. Husain. “In some cases, physicians may be concerned that patients will look at them in a different way if they need to look up information. There is a stigma; patients expect their providers to be able to recall any medical information immediately and precisely.”

“App use can actually introduce new information to the conversation.”

Another stigma associated with smartphone app use occurs among colleagues. “There’s a concern among some physicians that they’ll give the appearance of being disengaged if they pull out their phone to use a medical app when conversing with colleagues,” Dr. Husain says. “The other way to look at these situations is that app use can actually introduce new information to the conversation.”


Dr. Husain believes that time is the biggest barrier to overcoming these stigmas. “It’s mostly a generational issue,” he explains. “Fortunately, the incoming generation of physicians has grown up with computers. As this group moves from medical school or residency into longer-term practice, the adoption of smartphone apps will likely grow.”

Education on the abilities of smartphones and smartphone apps is also key to convincing non-users to consider adopting the technology. To accomplish this—and to better inform those already using the technology—Dr. Husain offers what he believes are the best smartphone apps for practicing physicians.

The Top 10 Free Medical Apps

For each of the following apps, listed in parentheses are the operating systems—these include iOS (the operating system used by iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad), Android, etc:

1. MicroMedex (iOS, Android): This prescription drug reference features a clean and easy-to-use interface. No registration is required, and the app offers a “surplus of knowledge,” says Dr. Husain.

2. Calculate by QxMD (iOS, Android): This tool offers
providers the ability to search for plentiful, easy-to-use calculators by specialty.

3. Draw MD (iOS): This series of apps includes one for each of several specialties and enables physicians to draw out surgical procedures to patients in a palatable manner.

4. AHRQ ePSS (iOS, Android, Palm WebOS, BlackBerry, Windows): This app brings recommendations from the United States Preventive Services Task
Force to mobile form.

5. Free iBooks (iOS): Physicians armed with the
desktop version of this application and without prior programming skills are able to create medical textbooks at home and publish them in the iBooks store, Dr. Husain says.

6. Upper Respiratory Virtual Lab (iOS): Created by Georgia Health Sciences University, this 3D animation app guides users through the upper respiratory system on a macro level.

7. Lancet (iOS, Android): Although some offerings are private and come at a cost, much of the content appearing in the Lancet is available with this app.

8. Dropbox (iOS, Android, Windows): This cloud-based app enables physicians to store, access, and share medical literature on their mobile device.

9. Evernote (iOS, Android, Windows): This app allows users to take notes, capture photos, create “to-do” lists, and record voice reminders that are accessible across all the devices they use.

10. Epocrates (iOS, Android, BlackBerry): Useful and easy-to-learn features on this app include the pill identifier, several medical calculators, and drug interaction checker. Dr. Husain says Epocrates is a favorite of clinicians and students alike, in his experience.

Additional free applications recommended by Dr. Husain that did not make the top 10 list are provided in the Table. “Most apps that physicians need are free,” says Dr. Husain. “The only apps physicians should feel the need to pay for are those that are specialty-specific and those that contain key medical learning.”

Wider Adoption of Medical Apps on the Way

With more and more smartphone medical apps reaching the market and the next generation of physicians entering practice, Dr. Husain expects wider adoption of these apps. “The hope is that medicine will embrace these innovative technologies to the point that education on how to use apps is incorporated into the medical curriculum,” he says. “Physicians should make every effort to embrace mobile technology because it’s clearly here to stay.”