The “Medical” Category Dilemma for Apps

The change that smartphones and tablets have brought to the medical industry is one of the more exciting developments to occur in healthcare in recent years.  What makes these devices exciting is the plethora of apps that they make available to clinicians.  The ability to quickly reference information, watch procedures, evaluate the latest evidence, document care and look at diagnostic imaging studies are few of the features now readily available from a small device that fits in your pocket.

We live in a culture where we are encouraged to appraise and evaluate the evidence and medical literature that supports our practice, and rightly so.  However, as we get bombarded with an ever-growing list of resources and references, this task becomes even more daunting.  More than 25 years ago some clinicians felt that we had “too many medical journals“, and now that the National Library of Medicine’s PUBMed indexes over 5500 journals from Medline alone, with more than 21 million total citations, that sentiment may be even more prevalent among practicing clinicians.  Now more than ever, it is important that we have vetted resources at our disposal that can help us sift through all the “intelligence” we receive in order to discern what is useful and what is not.

Before we go any further, let’s briefly review the history of medical apps.  Initially there was only a “Health and Fitness” category in Apple’s App Store.  This nice little timeline shows the significant developments that led to the Medical category being created from the Health and Fitness category in 2008.  When Google launched their app store for Android, it only had a “Health and Fitness” category as well.  After some lobbying, they realized the importance of having a separate category for medical apps as well.  This was a step in the right direction, but far from a viable solution to our problem.  There are over 12,000 iOS apps in the medical category of the App Store and the number grows each week!

If you are a clinician and own a smartphone then you will surely know that the medical categories for both of these platforms are inundated with apps that are not truly medical in nature.  A large percentage of them appears to be targeted at patients and not practicing clinicians.  A relatively small percentage of the over 12,000 apps in Apple’s App Store Medical category are actually intended for clinicians to use to augment/assist with patient care.  What is even more frustrating is that sifting through these 12,000 apps to find those that are appropriate or useful for your particular profession or discipline can be extremely challenging and frustrating.  Apple seems to be aware of this and recently came out with a “Featured Apps For Healthcare Professionals” section in the App Store.  Aside from having only a handful of apps (several of which are only for patients  - ironically), it’s far from a valid solution however, as it doesn’t address several relevant questions to include: Who decides which apps make it on this list?  What are the criteria? Is there some bias or conflict of interest involved?

The most appropriate question may be “How does this fix the original problem of sifting through 12,000+ apps to find clinically relevant ones?”

Many clinicians share this sentiment and some have started great resources to sift through and provide further insight and reviews into medical apps (iMedicalApps,  Srubd.In,  mhealth360, etc).

We are introducing the Medical App Journal to augment and complement what is out there, with a goal of providing an exhaustive reference for medical apps – by clinicians and for clinicians.  With the help of Apple we have been able to integrate the entire “Medical” category of apps into our database.  Between the editorial staff and the help of readers, we will begin to dwindle the database down to only apps that meet our established criteria.  Users can “vote” and flag apps that should be deleted from the database, and the criteria for determining what is a “medical” app is clearly defined.  We have established review guidelines and apps will receive peer-review by professionals who are subject matter experts (SMEs) in the field/discipline of that app.  Reviewers will be required to disclose any conflict of interest and their credentials will be transparent via their LinkedIn profile.  Developers and users are also encourage to submit any supporting videos or other resources (will go in a separate section) that may add value to understanding the capabilities of the app.

This site is in its infancy but we have already gathered significant interest and have begun to assign apps to qualified reviewers.  We are excited to see how this site may transform into a useful tool from which to gather relevant and useful information used by healthcare professionals of all disciplines.  We hope you’ll join us in helping this site reach its full potential.

Respectfully,

Medical App Journal Editorial Staff

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  • Rich

    Can you please keep those of us on the front lines in mind when you review these apps. Many Paramedics and EMTs are using smartphones and iPods/iPads in our daily patient care.

    • http://www.medicalappjournal.com admin

      Absolutely. Thanks for your comment Rich!

  • Charles Knight

    What an excellent summary!

    Can I suggest the iPhone app Mednar please (federated search)? Can you let me know?

    I would love to talk to someone about the San Ramos Valley Fire Department App.

    I am well past 1,000 apps and this project is fascinating.

    Cheers,

    Charles Knight
    Creative Director
    AltSearchEngines

  • Charles Knight

    Secondly I would like to nominate the iPhone app HealthMash. Thanks again!

  • Charles Knight

    One more! The iPhone app Webicina.

  • http://www.medicalappjournal.com drhon

    Hi Charles. Thanks for the recommendations. Some of the apps you mention are not in the “Medical” category of iTunes and that’s why they didn’t get indexed in this database (which is currently at 7000 apps and shrinking). If it is primarily a medical reference, I think it might get more exposure to the “right” people in the Medical category.

    Thanks,
    Dan

  • Abuabara

    sounds like a great idea! it would be great to get all the best apps together… and let other docs know about them.. they are useful tools that are right at your finger tips. just need to know which ones to trust!

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