Medical Apps for Physicians

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Contributed by Dr. Chandi Chandrasena

According to a 2014 Canada Health Infoway study, 67% of Canadian family physicians own a smartphone. Of those who own a phone, 82% said they use  it to look up drug references and 50% use it for clinical decision support.  

The number of smartphone owners has continued to grow over the past five years and, with it, the number of physicians who consult their phone for clinical information.

There are many reasons why physicians with smartphones use – and should use – medical apps. Apps can improve practice efficiency by saving time, speeding up diagnoses and limiting unnecessary visits. Some offer easier access to electronic health records or to colleagues for medical advice and insight. Many apps give clinicians quick access to accurate information.

I personally want to use my “over 40” memory for other things, and offload what I can. I’ve been giving talks and workshops focused on medical apps for almost two years. When I initially reviewed the literature, I found a handful of articles with sporadic mention of apps, and the options for download were limited. Today, the number of medical apps has exploded and the ease of finding and downloading these to your phone has grown.

Before considering an app for your own use, you should review it like anything else. As physicians, we are taught to use clinical judgment and evaluate anything before incorporating it into practice. If we are looking at a journal article or study, we have a standard way to assess the results and conclude if the information is accurate and useful. Medical apps should be assessed in a similar fashion.

Always ask yourself the following questions before adding a particular app to your toolbox of patient care.

  • Who produced it?: Who developed the app? Is it a private company or a drug company? A university or association? What do they have to gain from you using it?
  • Is it regularly updated?: This info can be found at the download point of the app. If you are using it to make clinic decisions then it is important to know that it is using the latest medical knowledge; apps that are regularly updated are more likely to incorporate new info.
  • Is it properly referenced?: If the app uses an algorithm, does it tell you what the clinical judgment is based on? Does the app actually do what it is supposed to do? How is the developer getting their conclusions?
  • Is it possible to give feedback?: Can you contact the developer to provide input regarding the app’s accuracy and its use?
  • Is it peer reviewed?: Is it widely used, and does it come recommended?
  • Is the app’s primary purpose to inform health professions or patients?
  • Any issues with privacy?: Does the app collect data? What is the data used for? Does it adhere to local privacy regulation?

You can find answers to most of these questions in the App Store or in Google Play prior to downloading the app. A quick online will also yield useful info and reviews.  

In the second part of this post, I’ll share with you my recommendations for what I consider the most relevant point-of-care and guideline apps.

Dr. Chandi Chandrasena is a family doctor practicing cradle to grave medicine in Ottawa. She is co-owner of a seven-doctor FHO and is currently the IT Lead. She is an OntarioMD Peer Leader and has no conflicts to declare.

Dr. Chandrasena has an iPhone 11 but not the Pro (as she couldn’t afford the extra $800 for another lens) and she uses TELUS PS EMR. She does not receive any financial compensation from any of the apps mentioned here (much to her chagrin). She gives talks on Medical Apps for Physicians at various conferences and also talks about Medical Apps for Patients.

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