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Should medical professionals get an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone? It’s complicated.

Lately, I’ve often been asked the question, “What type of smartphone should I get?” by my medical peers.  I’ve been asked this by physicians, residents, medical students, and others. Many of my friends are entering residency and plan on upgrading to a smart phone, while others already entrenched in residency have phone contracts finishing up.

The answer to this question is not easy. Rather, as Facebook nomenclature would demand, “it’s complicated”. From the title you can see I’ve excluded the Palm platform and Windows mobile phones. Palm is currently restructuring since being bought by HP, and Microsoft is in the process of rebooting their mobile division – so both currently do not possess vibrant ecosystems for app development – and won’t be included in this discussion.

How you use your mobile phone is key in choosing the right smart phone, and obviously, not all medical professionals use their phone in the same way. I’ll break down a few different scenarios, and hopefully this analysis will help you make a more informed decision about the right mobile platform for you.

Do you need a smart phone?

First off, you have to decide if you will actually use a smart phone. If you need to check your e-mail at multiple times throughout the day, or feel a mobile reference tool in the palm of your hand is something that would improve your workflow, then you should seriously consider getting a smart phone. However, if you find smart phones cumbersome, too complicated, and don’t ever feel the need to use mobile reference devices such as PDAs, then you probably don’t need a smart phone.

If all you plan on doing with your phone is making calls, then getting a smart phone will only complicate your work flow. To make a phone call on an iPhone can take up to 3 or more gestures – a waste of time for those who don’t plan on using all the other features the iPhone affords.

What is your contract situation?

When it comes to my medical peers, this can often times be the sticking point when making a decision about the right smart phone. Currently, the iPhone OS platform is only available for AT&T, so if you’re on a Verizon family plan or can’t switch carriers, the best option for you is an Android phone or a Blackberry.

You should also be cognizant of the increasing chatter about Verizon getting its hands on the iPhone. Engadget, and several other tech sites have been reporting this could possibly be announced when Steve Jobs announces the iPhone 4G in the coming weeks – but these rumors are not a new thing – and most likely are wishful thinking.

Do you use your phone in a rural settings – and how important is a dedicated internet connection?

It’s no secret Verizon has been bashing AT&T for the quality of it’s wireless service. AT&T has 3G service in cities, but the service can literally come to a standstill at peak hours. I’ve experienced this in New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, New Orleans, and Las Vegas. In mid-sized cities, I’ve actually had a pretty good experience with AT&T’s 3G connection.

In those big cities I mentioned, my peers who have Verizon service almost all had a good 3G experience, unlike my own. Recently, I undertook a long road trip, and realized the 3G coverage maps of AT&T’s service that Verizon so aptly pokes fun at in commercials are true. As soon as you leave a city, AT&T’s 3G service drops off and you get the dreaded “EDGE” connection – a significantly slower internet experience. My peers with Verizon phones usually did not suffer the same fate.

This is important if your healthcare work requires you to visit remote clinics and a dedicated Wi-Fi connection is not available. You don’t want to be stuck in a remote clinic with shoddy service. Granted, most mobile medical reference apps are native to your phone and don’t require an internet connection – but if you don’t have good service, looking up key information via the web is going to be a exercise in patience.

Also, many electronic health records can be accessed via the web, and if you health care network has mobile access to these records, having a mobile phone with a strong internet access is essential.

So if you need a phone with a strong internet connection in rural settings, stick to your Verizon service, and consider an Android or Blackberry phone.  Android phones have a superior browser in relation to the Blackberry, so if you need to use the browser to access patient data via portals, go with an Android phone.